Rollercoaster immigration

Take your seats for the immigration rollercoaster ride

Working in a politically-charged area of law like immigration can be challenging. Clients crave certainty, which is not something an immigration lawyer can easily offer. They value predictability, which is not an obvious feature of UK government policy in this area.

Since late 2023 we have seen a wave of announcements and changes, mainly in the managed or economic migration arena. The Immigration Health Surcharge rose from £624 per year of visa to £1,035, an increase of 66%. Civil penalties for employing unauthorised workers rose in February 2024 from £20,000 to a staggering £60,000 per worker, a 300% hike. And from 4 April 2024, the general salary threshold for sponsored skilled workers will increase from £26,200 to £38,700, up 48%.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recently completed a quick review of the Shortage Occupation List, now rebranded the Immigration Salary List (ISL), and an enquiry into the perceived abuse of the Graduate visa scheme has just been launched.

Many jobs – notably health and social care and certain teaching roles – will be shielded from salary increases because they reference nationally agreed public sector pay scales. The burden of the increases will therefore fall on the private sector, where overseas recruitment makes up around 30% of all skilled worker visas issued each year. In some instances, salary discounting is likely to remain – the new, we anticipate much briefer ISL for example, where the MAC has proposed a general salary threshold (to be known as the occupation-specific threshold) of £30,960. It is not known if other reductions, for example in relation to candidates under the age of 26, or switching from certain other visa routes such as study and graduate, will be retained, and if so, to what extent.

For standard overseas hires, however, perhaps the biggest news relates to the government’s intention to push up all salary thresholds for the many Standard Occupation Classification Codes (SOCC), referencing median salaries in each code. The rationale for the 48% increase to the general salary threshold is a move from the 25th centile across all SOCC under the ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) for 2021, to the 50th centile under ONS ASHE data from 2023. The same will happen across all SOCC, which gives some worrying results.

For example, electrical engineers (SOCC 2123) currently have a 25th centile going rate of £39,300; an increase to the 50th centile under ASHE 2023 provisional data will take their threshold up to £53,500, a huge 36% rise. Actual increases for individual SOCCs will be neither uniform nor predictable, depending on what is currently provisional ONS data in each instance.

If you would like to know how these changes will impact you, please speak to an expert lawyer at Latitude Law on 0300 131 6767 or fill in the contact form below and we will get back to you.

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