Immigration: Home Office transforms the landscape

The Home Office has announced significant measures to reduce legal migration to the UK, following the latest statistics showing record net migration figures for 2023. They will likely be implemented during Q2 2024, although the exact timeframe is yet to be finalised. They will significantly increase the costs to employers who wish to sponsor overseas workers and affect British citizens and settled persons in the UK looking to bring family here.

Francesca Sciberras

Phoebe Warren

Five-point legal migration plan

Home secretary James Cleverly announced a five-point plan to cut immigration numbers, promising to reduce net migration figures by 300,000. These policies have not yet been implemented but the Home Office has indicated that relevant rule changes will be applicable from this spring. The policies are:

1. Skilled worker Route

The minimum salary threshold to be sponsored under the skilled worker route is proposed to increase from £26,200 to £38,700, a 48% rise. Specific ‘going rate’ salary thresholds for different occupations will also be raised in line with the general salary threshold. The health and care sub-category will be exempted from these changes due to continuing worker shortages.

2. Health and care workers – dependants no longer permitted  

Care workers will, however, no longer be entitled to bring dependant family members to the UK. Furthermore, care providers in England will only be permitted to sponsor migrants if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission, a change intended to target a perceived lack of sponsor compliance within the care sector.

3. Shortage occupations

For roles in shortage occupations there will be changes to reduced going rate salary thresholds, and fewer professions will benefit from a reduced going rate salary threshold, making it more difficult for migrants in shortage occupations to satisfy the salary requirement.

The Migration Advisory Committee will be commissioned to review the occupations in the shortage occupation list to reduce the number of professions included.

4. Dependants of British citizens and settled persons in the UK

The minimum income requirement for family members who come to the UK to join British citizens and settled persons in the UK will increase from £18,600 to £29,000 in the spring. The threshold will later increase to £34,500 and then to £38,700. This will make it more difficult for British citizens/individuals who are settled in the UK to bring partners here.

5. Graduates and students

Cleverly also announced a review of the graduate immigration route, to be carried out by the Migration Advisory Committee ‘to ensure it is fit for purpose and to prevent abuse’. Specific policy changes to this route have yet to be announced.

It is worth noting that separate restrictions on students came into force on 1 January, including preventing most postgraduate students from bringing dependants to the UK and removing the ability for international students to switch to work routes in the UK before their studies are completed.

Further changes – fees and fines

Immigration and nationality fee increases

Fee increases for immigration and nationality applications, as well as the immigration health surcharge (IHS), are also being implemented to generate income for the Home Office. Application fees for most work and visit routes increased by 15%, alongside rises of at least 20% in costs for priority services, student route applications, and certificates of sponsorship.

The IHS is a fee imposed on most individuals applying for immigration permission in the UK. Those applying under the visitor route, the EU Settlement Scheme or for indefinite leave to remain in the UK are exempt from paying the IHS.

Under the legislation laid before parliament on 19 October, the IHS is set to increase by 66%, from £624 to £1,035 per year for adult applicants and from £470 to £776 per year for children, students, their dependants and applicants under the Youth Mobility Scheme. The IHS increase should, pending legislative delays, come into force no sooner than 6 February.

Civil penalty fines increase

Finally, as of 22 January, employers who breach illegal working rules are subject to increased fines starting at a maximum of £45,000 for an initial breach and £60,000 for subsequent breaches. This increase marks a trebling of current civil penalty fines for illegal working.

These developments in immigration compliance rules pose a significant financial risk to employers which now, more than ever, should be confident that they have undertaken the prescribed right-to-work checks to establish a statutory defence against any illegal working. For those who employ students, close attention should be paid to ensuring they work in line with their conditions and only fill a full-time permanent vacancy if an exception applies.

Paradigm shift

The Home Office’s policy announcements in this area are very significant. These changes place a substantial financial burden on employers and applicants alike. The emphasis on compliance, highlighted by elevated civil penalty fines, underscores the commitment to reducing net migration figures. Employers must navigate these evolving regulations to mitigate financial and legal risks in a transformed immigration landscape.


Francesca Sciberras is a partner and Phoebe Warren a trainee solicitor in the professional support lawyers team at Laura Devine Immigration in London 

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