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Important Immigration Updates Impacting UK Employers

Numerous significant immigration changes are on the horizon, poised to impact employers in the UK. Here’s a comprehensive overview of what you should be aware of:

Visa Application Costs Surge

Starting February 6, 2024, significant changes are underway in the realm of UK immigration, directly impacting employers. One of the foremost changes involves a considerable increase in visa application costs. Specifically, the Immigration Health Surcharge is escalating from £624 to £1,035 annually for most adult UK visa applications. For minors, students, and applicants under the Youth Mobility Scheme, the lower rate will rise from £470 to £776 per annum.

Rising Civil Penalties for Illegal Working

Effective February 13, 2024, penalties for illegal working are escalating substantially. Employers found breaching section 15 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006—pertaining to employees working without a valid visa or violating visa conditions—will face increased fines. The fine for a first breach soars from £15,000 to £45,000, while subsequent breaches incur a tripled penalty from £20,000 to £60,000 per employee. Notably, these heightened fines only apply to breaches occurring on or after February 13.

Enhanced Measures for Preventing Illegal Working

Simultaneously, the Home Office has released an updated Code of Practice on Preventing Illegal Working, providing employers with guidance on establishing a statutory excuse for right to work checks. Additionally, an overhaul of the comprehensive Employer’s Guide on Right to Work Checks is anticipated in the near future.

Mandatory Electronic Travel Authorisation

From February 22, 2024, certain nationalities planning short stays in the UK or lacking UK immigration status prior to travel will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). Nationals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan will need an ETA to enter the UK. Qatari nationals already require an ETA, while applications for other nationalities will be addressed in subsequent updates throughout 2024.

Review of Shortage Occupation List

On February 23, 2024, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is set to review the new Immigration Salary List, which supersedes the current Shortage Occupation List. This review aims to recommend roles for inclusion on the new list, aligning with changes to the Skilled Worker route effective April 4. Notably, there is no provision for employer consultation in determining the roles to be included.

Publication of New Immigration Rules

March 14, 2024, marks the release of new Immigration Rules, offering detailed insights into the changes announced in December 2023 and the Immigration Salary List. These rules will come into effect on April 4, 2024, with certain provisions ensuring minimal disruption for individuals already within the Skilled Worker route.

Skilled Worker Visa Amendments

Commencing April 4, 2024, several alterations to the Skilled Worker Visa will be implemented, including an increase in the general salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700 for new applicants. Furthermore, the 20% discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List will be eliminated, and annual going rates for eligible occupations under the Skilled Worker route will be adjusted.

Sponsor License Renewal Simplification

In a positive development, sponsors with licenses expiring on or after April 6, 2024, are relieved of the obligation to renew their sponsor licenses or pay renewal fees. Those who have already renewed will receive refunds, while the expiration dates of licenses have been extended by 10 years.

Transition to Digital Immigration System

By December 31, 2024, Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) will begin expiring as part of the Home Office’s digitisation initiative. BRP holders will transition to proving their immigration status online, eliminating the need for physical BRPs.

Upcoming ETIAS Implementation

In 2025, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will become operational, serving as a travel authorisation requirement for visa-exempt nationals visiting European countries. While initially slated for launch in 2024, updates on its implementation are forthcoming.

With these pivotal immigration updates on the horizon, UK employers must stay vigilant and adapt to ensure compliance and mitigate risks effectively.