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UK Immigration 2023 and Looking Forward to 2024

As we head into the festive season, we look back at some of the changes that were introduced in 2023 and forward to the year ahead with several significant alterations to the UK’s immigration policies expected in 2024.

There have been some important developments for Immigration policy in 2023. In early November the Government suffered a significant setback in the Supreme Court for their Rwanda Asylum Policy. Introduced by the current Government to ‘stop the boats’ it has been controversial since it was announced, given Rwanda’s own human rights record, with the risk of refoulement being a key issue to overcome. How the next steps will play out will be keenly watched with the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, pledging to find a way for this policy to finally be realised. The controversial Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill returns to the House of Commons in early 2024 and will be the subject of extensive political and media debate.

Against the backdrop of economic uncertainty, the Home Office introduced fee increases of between 15-20% on most UK Immigration applications in October 2023 adding to the already significant costs for individuals to migrate to the UK. Sponsors in the UK are mindful of the need to have a persuasive business case to sponsor a worker when the costs often run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Since April 2023, UK employers sponsoring overseas workers must comply with higher minimum salary requirements. This change was introduced as part of the Spring Statement of Changes to Immigration Rules. The Skilled Worker minimum salary for most applicants increased to £26,200 and Global Business Mobility up to £45,800.

In the summer of 2023, Immigration statistics revealed that net migration had hit record breaking numbers with work visas (including dependants) up by 63% from 2022. These figures were fuelled by a 96% surge in visitors to the UK post pandemic and the implications of European nationals requiring a work visa to relocate to the UK following Brexit. Immigration statistics revealed in November 2023 that work visas are the largest contributor to net migration, partially as a result of the opening of the immigration system to care workers. There were over 474,000 work visas issued in 2023 (year to September) including 270,000 main applicants and 204,000 dependents. This is already higher than the whole of 2022, and almost double 2021. This has driven many of the developments we can expect to see in 2024.


On the horizon for 2024

**Changes to the Immigration Rules**

We can expect the implementation of the Statement of Changes to the Immigration rules announced in December 2023.  Key Changes will be to the UK visitor rules with a slight expansion of permitted activities and some tweaks to the Permitted Paid Engagement route. The Youth Mobility Scheme will also be expanded in the next year to individuals from Uruguay and an increase in the age range for some nationalities (Australia, Canada, and Republic of Korea) to 35.

The Home Secretary has also announced a package of measures in December 2023 which aim to significantly reduce legal migration into the UK. The “five-point plan”, which will come into force in Spring 2024, consists of the following changes:

  • Skilled worker minimum salary change: the threshold for applications under the Skilled Worker route will increase to £38,700 (from the current £26,200), with a lower salary threshold applicable to health and care workers.
  • Shortage Occupation List: The 20% discount applied to minimum salaries for applicants under the Shortage Occupation list (SOL) will be axed. In addition, the Home Secretary has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the entirety of the SOL given the new minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers, with a view to reducing the number of eligible occupations on the SOL.
  • Family Visas: The minimum salary threshold to sponsor a family member will increase to £38,700 (from the current £18,600 which was set in 2012) in line with the changes to the Skilled Worker threshold.
  • Student and Graduate visas: The government will ask the MAC to review the Graduate Route to “prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of UK Higher Education”.
  • Health and Care visas: Overseas care workers will not be able to bring family dependents to the UK. Care firms that want to sponsor people to come to the UK will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

**Increase in Immigration Health Surcharge**

The UK government has proposed a considerable increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge, effective from January 16, 2024. The primary rate will rise from £624 per year to £1,035 per annum. This change will impact all applicants, including students and those under 18 years of age (although they will be subject to a lower fee).

**Increase in Civil Penalty charges for illegal working**

The maximum illegal working penalty is due to increase from £20,000 to £60,000 in January 2024.

**Further digitalisation of borders**

The continuing rol out of the Electronic Travel Authorisation “ETA” is expected with Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates being able to apply from 1 February 2024. Further countries will be admitted to the scheme during 2024. The ETA is a digital permission to travel to the UK and is a visa waiver system introduced to help strengthen the security of the borders. British nationals will be required to comply with the European Travel Information and Authorisation System “ETIAS” from 2024.

Immigration policy is inextricably linked to the UK political landscape and with a General Election in 2024, all of those impacted by UK Immigration changes will need to keep an eye on what the next chapter will bring. The developments reflect the UK’s evolving approach to managing immigration, balancing the needs of its labour market and educational institutions with broader policy objectives.

As we bid farewell to this year, Magrath Sheldrick wish you a festive season filled with laughter, love, and cherished moments.


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