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Changes to UK’s work visa routes from 4 April 2024

Shara Pledger tells HRNews about a significant raft of changes to the immigration rules which will affect all sponsored workers in the UK from 4 April 2024  

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    A raft of changes to the immigration rules take effect in a few days’ time on 4 April as part of the government’s drive to cut net migration. The overall impact will be significant - to make it harder for roles to qualify for skilled worker sponsorship. We’ll speak to an immigration expert on how the new rules will impact on sponsoring employers.

    Personnel Today reports on this with their headline ‘Businesses will be priced out of market for talent by new immigration rules,’ meaning the main impact for employers will be financial, with significant increases in the salary requirements for skilled worker visas. The minimum salary rate is being increased by 48% from £26,200 to £38,700 a year from April. Also, the Shortage Occupation List is being replaced by an Immigration Salary List  with 21 roles – down from 54 on the Shortage Occupation List . Although the 20% discount to the threshold rate (£38,700) has been retained for jobs on the new list, there is no discount to the going rate which can often be much higher. Also, the overall complexity of the rules has gone up a notch with detailed transitional provisions for those already in the UK on relevant visas. 

    The article quotes a number of immigration lawyers commenting on the likely impact of the changes on their clients and, whilst it does vary depending on the sector, the overall message is much the same - that these changes make life more difficult and more expensive for employers.

    So, let’s hear from one of our own immigration lawyers. Shara Pledger is currently advising clients on the likely impact of the changes and earlier she joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss it:

    Shara Pledger: “The 4th of April changes to the immigration rules are probably some of the most significant changes that we've seen certainly since the end of 2020 when the Brexit transition period came to an end, but probably even for years before that as well. The main headline is increases. So, the salary increases will be affecting absolutely everybody that is sponsored in the UK, whether that's people who are already within the sponsored route or people who will be new to the route from 4 April and it is absolutely the case that some employers will simply be priced out of the sponsorship system. We are having conversations with clients now and there is a general feeling, I know, throughout the UK of is this really what they what they meant? You know, we're going to have huge sectors, or huge collections of employers, who are unable now to support people via the sponsored route and, unfortunately, the broad answer to that is, yes, this is exactly what the intention of these measures is. It's to reduce the number of people who qualify for that sponsorship in the UK ultimately, of course, to drive down net migration figures overall.”

    Joe Glavina: “If somebody is sponsored before 4 April then their visa application will be considered under the current rules, before the salary increases, so an obvious way round this is to simply expedite the application. But I gather that’s easier said than done because of issues with getting it processed in time. Is that right?” 

    Shara Pledger: “Yes, you are absolutely right. So, in theory, anybody who wants to get sponsored before 4 April can, of course, just go ahead and do that now but in practice that doesn't really reflect what we're seeing. Every sponsor in the UK will have an allocation of spaces that they can offer to a person who is already living within this country and that allocation is obviously finite. It's a time of year when a lot of people's allocations are renewed, which is fortuitous, but that isn't the case for absolutely everybody and it's certainly the case for a lot of clients that we're speaking with that the allocation that they have isn't actually sufficient to deal with the volume of people that they would like to sponsor at this time. Now, there is a process for requesting an increase with the Home Office but, unfortunately, that is quite a lengthy process. On a standard basis it can take up to 18 weeks for that type of application to be dealt with. There is, again, another process that allows you to expedite that request but that is a lottery and I mean that quite literally. It’s getting online ready for 9am every morning in order to send your request to be included in that expedited group for the day and the Home Office will randomly select 60 people who have requested that service per day and process them and I, like many, many, people throughout the UK, are currently dialling in at 9am every day and sending off that request and not getting anywhere with it, unfortunately. So, it's absolutely the case that, unfortunately, there will be people who will simply miss out.”

    Joe Glavina: “If we assume there will be a good number of employers out there who simply can’t expedite the application, for whatever reason, they then face the higher costs under the new rules from 4 April. Are there other options for them, perhaps?”

    Shara Pledger: “Yes, there's a lot to think about for employers. I mean at the moment, obviously, this is a very focused consideration because we have these changes just on the horizon but this is something that will continue for months and years to come. Ultimately, if moving forward an employer is not able to support somebody at the salary level that they need, either because they can't get it through before 4 April or because we're talking about somebody new to the sponsorship route from that date onwards, then they simply won't be able to sponsor, that is the reality of it. But where  employers are considering actually increasing their salaries to meet these new thresholds, it's very easy to quite blindly walk into a situation where actually you're creating a discrepancy between a group of individuals who are sponsored and your workers who are not, and having any kind of imbalance there in terms of the amount that people are being paid could obviously lead to equal pay issues, it can lead to other issues in relation to discrimination. So, this is a really big thing for employers to consider not just for this very short period up until 4 April but, obviously, moving beyond that because, ultimately, what people need is a strategy, not just a very short-term solution.”

    Joe Glavina: “Some sectors are being hit especially hard by the new rules with a huge jump in costs for some and there will be plenty of employers thinking they simply cannot afford sponsorship. Are there alternative routes, perhaps?”

    Shara Pledger: “Alternative immigration routes are one way that employers can look to try and solve this problem. Of course, there are finite ways that they'll be able to do that because the immigration rules are intentionally drafted in a way that's not particularly flexible, but there might be ways that they can look at perhaps using some of the other immigration routes that could be of benefit to them. So, for example, we know that a lot of particular roles within digital technology - as a sector and also as a specialism - they will be really increasing so it will become a lot more expensive to sponsor somebody and pay somebody at the rates that are required for sponsorship. Digital technology, of course, is one of those areas that is currently covered by our Global Talent route so it might be that there are opportunities for people to consider whether or not they have any workers who are so highly skilled that they are meeting that threshold but, as I say, you know, this is not going to be a solution for everybody and certainly not when it comes to sort of fairly high volume recruitment within the UK. Some sectors, absolutely, will just simply not be able to afford this moving forward and that, of course, will also be geographically linked. The problem that we have with the Home Office taking this approach of moving employees up based on median salaries is that they don't take into account the differentiation of salaries across the UK in different areas, different regions, etcetera. So, as we've already seen in the sponsorship system, but certainly exacerbated moving forward, it will be far easier to be able to show that you can meet the requirements if you are based in London or the southeast than if you are based in, say, the northwest.”

    Joe Glavina: “Anything else, Shara?”

    Shara Pledger: “At the moment, I think what a lot of the clients that we're speaking to are struggling with, and certainly it is the most complicated area of this, are the transitional provisions for the individuals who are already sponsored. There is initial good news. If you are sponsoring somebody already and they are just present in the UK working under the terms of their sponsorship there's no need for immediate action, so no requirement to immediately increase their salaries, for example. However, what this means moving forward in terms of future applications for extensions, crucially applications where somebody's job changes and perhaps they move to a different employer or they move to a different role with the same employer, it’s really unclear in terms of what that actually means. So, definitely encouragement, I think, to people to remain engaged and, of course, we've all got one eye out for the guidance whenever that drops, hopefully before 4 April but probably not until that date, and hoping that that will give a little bit more clarity about exactly what process is needed for that category of worker.”

    As Shara mentioned, we are waiting for the Home Office to publish guidance as to how the new rules will operate from 4 April. Meanwhile, the rules themselves have been published and we have put a link to them in the transcript of this programme for you.

    - Link to Immigration Rules: Statement of Changes


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