Out-Law News 3 min. read

UK employers face complexities due to immigration sponsorship changes

Changes to UK immigration rules primarily impacting sponsored workers mean businesses face complex rules on salary increases and job advertisements.

The new rules went live as expected on 4 April meaning that, in effect, there are now two sets of rules impacting sponsored workers running alongside each other. Shara Pledger, corporate immigration expert at Pinsent Masons said: “While the changes are relatively clear in law, the practicalities are far more complex for businesses and other sponsoring organisations.”

Skilled Workers originally sponsored before 4 April must now be paid the highest of either £29,000 per year as a base rate, £11.90 per hour, or the going rate for the role. Skilled workers originally sponsored from 4 April onwards must now be paid a £38,700 base rate, £15.88 per hour, or the going rate for the role, whichever is highest.

Businesses sponsoring or planning to sponsor an individual to work in the UK will need a thorough understanding of the schemes in place for those sponsored before 4 April and those sponsored after, as well as needing to assess candidates appropriately, Pledger said. Sponsorship requirements may differ depending on a candidate’s immigration history.

There is no immediate need to raise salary for a worker who already has UK immigration status. However, extensions, settlements and new sponsorship applications will see requirements that are more onerous than those applying before the changes took effect. For example, those sponsored from 4 April onwards carry much higher salary requirements for businesses. The increase will take effect the next time an application is made.

Despite the update, discounts to sponsored worker salaries remain in place. This includes those with a PhD relevant to the role they are sponsored for. Generally, this will result in a 10-20% discount to both the base rate and going rate, and for “new entrants” such as Students and Graduates, a discount of up to 30% may apply to the base rate and going rate. Applying these discounts can reduce required salaries to as little as £30,960 for those newly sponsored and £23,200 for those already sponsored.

Skilled Worker is not the only category to have seen salary increases. Global Business Mobility routes are also impacted, with the starting salary increasing in many categories, including Senior or Specialist Worker. Senior and specialist intra-company transfers will need to be paid at least £48,500 per year where sponsorship is assigned from 4 April. This rise is in addition to the going rate increases described above.

The Home Office has also introduced changes to the job codes under which workers may be sponsored. Some codes are unchanged and some are similar, while others have been completely changed and a few removed from the approved list altogether. Small changes include tweaks to the job description which may alter the way in which these roles are advertised. Any new codes usually represent a split of pre-existing codes to make two distinct codes that have a separate focus, again potentially impacting on the way in which businesses advertise sponsorable vacancies.

Transitional periods apply to those codes that have been removed from the approved list, meaning that those already sponsored under these codes can continue in their roles, but no permission will be granted for new sponsorship under these job codes.

Following the change, Pledger said: “Advertising vacancies will become more complex. While a salary range may mean that sponsorship is not possible for those new to sponsorship, it could still be viable for a person already sponsored elsewhere. This will further confuse recruitment practices, an area where employers have already been seeking clarity on when sponsorship is necessary and whether refusal can be based on preference rather than law.”

There is now also a different approach for those in roles acknowledged as being difficult to fill in the UK. Under the old rules, inclusion in the ‘Shortage Occupation List’ entitled a role to discounts on the base rate and going rate, as well as cheaper application cost. However, this list has now been withdrawn and replaced with the ‘Immigration Salary List’ which includes fewer roles. Inclusion on this list continues to allow for a discounted salary base rate of £30,960, or £23,200 for those sponsored before 4 April, but there is no discount on the going rate and no reduction in application cost. This means that for some roles, the required salary will be at a higher going rate than anything previously experienced.

Pledger said: “Salary levels will be challenging in many roles moving forward, but employers must be cautious if looking to increase offers to meet sponsorship needs. There is risk of imbalance between sponsored and unsponsored workers, leading to issues relating to discrimination and equality. Employers must be vigilant to maintain a clear and consistent policy on recruitment and sponsorship concerns.”

Employers will need to run more checks before offering sponsorship to a person new to the organisation. This will include confirming the individual’s work and sponsorship history, to confirm which salary assessment should apply.

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