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Immigration News - January 2024 update

 

May we wish you a happy New Year!

As we start 2024, we appreciate many of you will have concerns about the significant number of changes announced by the UK government in their further attempt to reduce migration numbers. We fully appreciate some of you may have concerns about the impact of these changes on your businesses. We will continue to use this update to inform you as and when further details are announced.

We are here to support you with any immigration matters and remove some of those challenges associated with Immigration compliance. Should you need any advice or support with anything, please do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Working in the UK

Proposed changes to the Skilled Worker Route

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary announced on 4 December 2023 a plan to slash migration levels and curb abuse of the immigration system. The key proposed changes to the Skilled Worker route are as follows:

  • The general / baseline salary threshold for Skilled Workers will increase by nearly 50% from £26,200 to £38,700 from 4th April 2024. Education workers who are on national pay scale occupations and those on a Health and Care Worker visas will be exempted from this salary threshold increase.
  • There will continue to be salary discounts for those at the start of their careers (New Entrants).
  • Those already in the Skilled Worker route before the Immigration Rules change should be exempt from the new median salary levels when they change sponsor, extend, or settle. The UKVI would, however, expect their pay to progress at the same rate as resident workers. In view of this, they should be paid at least the 25th percentile (currently £29,000) when they next make an application to change employment, extend their stay, or settle.
  • The Shortage Occupation List will be reformed into an Immigration Salary List. They plan to significantly reduce the number of jobs where it will be possible to sponsor overseas workers below the general / baseline minimum salary (which is the main purpose of this list). The changes to the Shortage Occupation List will happen no earlier than April 2024. The current SOL will remain in place until the new salary thresholds are put in place in late Spring.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee will also be asked to review the Graduate route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse. The review of the Graduate visa route will begin in January 2024 and is expected to run until late 2024.
  • Care workers will be unable to bring family members to the UK as skilled worker dependants.
  • Social care firms in England will be required to be registered with the Care Quality Commission if they wish to sponsor workers.
  • For those applying for further leave to remain (renewing their visa), these new policies will not be applied retrospectively and until the immigration rules are amended the salary threshold will remain the same. The specifics of the policy, including details of how it will be applied to those renewing visas, will be confirmed in due course.

Further information can be viewed here. You can also read the Home Secretary’s announcement here. The UK government have also published a factsheet which can be viewed here.

We appreciate that the above changes may cause employers and existing / prospective sponsored workers some concern. We will be updating you on any further information / dates of implementation, etc. via this update. Should you wish to discuss any concerns regarding the above announcements and would like to schedule a call or consultation over Microsoft Teams, please contact us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9920/

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-secretary-unveils-plan-to-cut-net-migration

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/fact-sheet-on-net-migration-measures-further-detail

 

Proposed changes to the Health and Care visas

The key proposed changes to the Health and Care visa are as follows:

  • Those coming on the Health and Social Care visa route will be exempted from the increased salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas.
  • Care worker and senior care worker main applicants will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK under this route. This will happen as soon as possible in the new year.
  • Care workers (SOC code 6145) and senior care workers (SOC code 6146) already in the route will be able to remain with their dependants, including extending, changing employer (within the same SOC code) and when applying for settlement (ILR).
  • Where a care worker or senior care worker is in the route before the Immigration Rules change, but has not yet brought dependants, they will be allowed to bring dependants during their sponsorship (on this visa).
  • Individuals who are in the UK on any other route, including where the route permits dependants, who switch into the Health and Care visa route as a care worker or senior care worker after this date, will not be able to stay with (or bring over) dependants.
  • Providers in England will only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
  • Care providers who were sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore not required to be registered with the CQC) before the rules change should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for extensions to their visa on those terms, but not hire new ones.

These changes intend to end the exploitation and abuse identified by the Migration Advisory Committee and National Care Association and ensure that those who come to the UK on this route genuinely provide care for those who need it. There will be no caps for care numbers, but the plans do restrict those who can bring in dependants.

Further information can be viewed here. You can also read the Home Secretary’s announcement here. The UK government have also published a factsheet which can be viewed here.

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9920/

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-secretary-unveils-plan-to-cut-net-migration

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/fact-sheet-on-net-migration-measures-further-detail

 

Illegal Working Civil Penalties Quarterly Report / Increase in Compliance Visits

The Home Office (UKVI) have published their quarterly report showing the number of illegal working penalties between 1st April to 30th June 2023. The regional report can be viewed here.

The report shows that during this period, there were:

  • a total number of 377 civil penalties were issued,
  • a total of 476 illegal workers found, and
  • the total value of penalties issued was £5,565,000.

The civil penalty for employers is increasing to up to £45K for a first offence of illegal working or up to £60k for repeat offences of illegal working. As advised in last month’s update, the home secretary also recently announced an increase to immigration compliance visits in their attempts to reduce the number of illegal workers in the UK. In view of this, it is imperative that you have appropriate right to work evidence on file for all employees. It is also a good opportunity for you to review your right to work / immigration / recruitment policies to ensure they are robust, clear, and up to date.

Veristat provides training on right to work checks for employers, which can be provided on the client’s site or remotely via Microsoft Teams. We also can review right to work / immigration / recruitment policies on request, as well as carry out remote or on site right to work file audits. For further details about any of these services and a quote, please contact us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/illegal-working-civil-penalties-anonymous-regional-report

 

Current Visa Processing Times - Work visas

The Home Office (UKVI) have published their current decision waiting times for those applying from inside or outside the UK.

Those applying to switch or extend their work visa from within the UK, should receive a decision within 8 weeks of attending their biometric appointment or the date the application / documents were received by the UKVI (if no appointment is required). Applications made under the Health and Care Visa normally receive a decision within 3 weeks if applied for from inside the UK. The latest processing times for those applying from inside the UK can be viewed here.

Those applying for a work visa from outside the UK, should get a decision within 3 weeks once they have either attended their appointment at the visa application centre (VAC)or used the ID Check app and submitted their application/supporting documents. The latest processing times for those applying from outside the UK can be viewed here.

Applicants may be able to pay an additional fee to expedite their applications for a quicker decision.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/visa-processing-times-applications-outside-the-uk

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/visa-processing-times-applications-inside-the-uk

  

Studying in the UK  

International students no longer able to bring dependants on UK Student visas

International students studying in the UK can no longer bring dependants with them on their Student visa, apart from those on research postgraduate programmes. This was initially announced by the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, in May 2023.

Further information about the requirements for those on a Student visa to bring dependants can be viewed here.

https://www.gov.uk/student-visa/family-members

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/news/international-students-no-longer-able-bring-dependants-uk-student-visas

  

Current Visa Processing Times - Study visas

The Home Office (UKVI) have published their current decision waiting times for those applying from inside or outside the UK for a study visa.

Those applying to switch or extend their study visa from within the UK, should receive a decision within 8 weeks of attending their biometric appointment or the date the application / documents were received by the UKVI (if no appointment is required). The latest processing times for those applying from inside the UK can be viewed here.

Those applying for a Student/Child Student visa or Short-term study visa from outside the UK, should get a decision within 3 weeks once they have either attended their appointment at the visa application centre (VAC) or used the ID Check app and submitted their application/supporting documents. The latest processing times for those applying from outside the UK can be viewed here.

Applicants may be able to pay an additional fee to expedite their applications for a quicker decision.

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/visa-processing-times

 

Sponsorship - please note ...

Annual CoS Allocation

Most sponsors should now have an ‘automatic’ annual CoS allocation, meaning that you will normally be granted an allocation of CoS based on the number of ‘undefined’ CoS you assigned during the previous allocation year. Therefore, where you have not assigned any or few ‘undefined’ CoS during the previous year, your allocation of CoS may fall short of what you require for the current allocation year.

In view of this, we recommend that sponsors assess the number of CoS they will require for the next allocation year at the start of each year to ensure that they have sufficient CoS available for their needs.

Where you have not been granted enough CoS by UKVI, we recommend that you submit an in-year request for additional CoS as early as possible, as such requests can take up to 18 weeks to be considered by the Home Office (UKVI). It may be possible to apply for the request to be prioritised by using the Worker and Temporary Worker Priority Change of Circumstance service, but this service is currently oversubscribed, and clients are reporting difficulty in having requests accepted.. Therefore to avoid any issues with not having sufficient CoS, we strongly suggest that you assess your requirements for CoS and where required, apply for an increase to your allocation at your earliest convenience.

When submitting requests for an in-year increase to your allocation it is imperative that you provide a robust business case for any additional CoS you are requesting.

  

Assigning CoS (Switching from Graduate visa route into Skilled Worker visa route)

Sponsors are being reminded by UKVI that where assigning a CoS to an applicant who is on a Graduate visa or dependant of a Student visa and switching into the Skilled Worker route, they are not exempt from paying the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC).

Therefore, when assigning a CoS to a worker whose permission is currently as a Graduate or as a dependant of someone on a Student visa, the employer must pay the ISC, so when assigning CoS to such workers, should select the following CoS category:

 

‘Skilled Worker (Switching immigration category – ISC liable

 

Failure to assign the correct CoS category and pay the appropriate ISC fee will result in a delay to your worker’s visa or leave application consideration and may ultimately result in the visa application being refused.

Should you need any advice or support when applying for or assigning CoS, please do not hesitate to contact us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk or by telephone on 01344 624016.

 

Reminder: SMS system: Companies House Reference Number

Whilst we previously reported this in our November update, please note the provision of a sponsor’s Companies House (CHN) reference number has been enabled in the SMS system. Companies House records are publicly available and checks with Companies House are completed by the Home Office (UKVI) when applying for a licence or when certain requests are made to an existing licence. Provision of a CHN will facilitate more effective checking and will also aid the migration of sponsors to the transformed sponsorship system.

Sponsors who are registered with Companies House can provide their CHN by using the SMS process for amending your organisation’s details. Such changes to the CHN are immediately updated on the SMS system and are not subject to approval by the Home Office (UKVI). If your organisation is registered with Companies House, you should add your CHN to the SMS system at your earliest convenience.

 

Other Immigration News

Increases to the Immigration Health Surcharge 

The government announced on 13th October 2023 that there would be an increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The order was passed on 16th January 2024, which means that it will come into effect 21 days later, so applications submitted on or after 6th February 2024 will need to pay the higher IHS fees. Further information can be viewed here.

We previously highlighted that the application fees for the majority of UK immigration and nationality applications have increased. Specifically the IHS fees will be increasing as outlined below:

  • IHS fee for adults is increasing from £624 to £1,035 per year of the visa.
  • IHS fees for children, students, student dependants, and individuals who have applied under the Youth Mobility Scheme route is increasing from £470 to £776 per year of the visa.

There is currently no IHS fee for Health and Care Workers or for people applying for entry clearance or permission to stay under the Ukraine visa schemes and there are no proposed changes in this respect.

This is going to be a significant change for applicants and indeed for those employers who agree to pay the visa application fees and the IHS fees for existing or prospective workers.

https://statutoryinstruments.parliament.uk/instrument/Oj1daRX3

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9859/

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2024/55/made

  

Proposed changes to Family visas

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary announced on 4 December 2023 a plan to slash migration levels and curb abuse of the immigration system.

The key changes to the Family route will be as follows:

  • The minimum income requirement for Family visas (spouse/partner) will first increase from the current threshold of £18,600 to £29,000 on 11th April 2024 and by early 2025 this will have increased to £38,700.
  • Those who already have a Family visa within the five-year partner route, or who apply before the minimum income requirement threshold is raised, will continue to have their applications assessed against the current income requirement and will not be required to meet the increased threshold. This will also be the case for children seeking to join or accompany parents.
  • Anyone who is granted a fiancé(e) visa before the minimum income threshold is raised will also be assessed against the current income requirement when they apply for a Family visa within the five-year partner route.
  • There will no longer be a separate child element to the minimum income requirement for Family visas, to ensure that British nationals are not treated less favourably than migrants who are required to meet the General Skilled Worker threshold as a flat rate, regardless of any children being sponsored.
  • Those already in the UK on a different visa route who apply to switch into the Family route (five-year partner route), after the minimum income requirement has been increased, will be subject to the new income requirement.

Further information can be viewed here. You can also read the Home Secretary’s announcement here. The UK government have also published a factsheet which can be viewed here.

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9920/

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-secretary-unveils-plan-to-cut-net-migration

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/fact-sheet-on-net-migration-measures-further-detail

 

Proving English Language ability: Secure English Language Tests (SELT)

The Home Office (UKVI) has published updated lists of approved English language tests / test centres.

The latest lists can be viewed here.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prove-your-english-language-abilities-with-a-secure-english-language-test-selt

 

Current Visa Processing Times - Family route visa applications 

The Home Office (UKVI) have published their current decision waiting times for those applying from inside or outside the UK for a family route visa. The latest visa processing times can be viewed here.

For those applying to switch to or extend their Family route visa from within the UK, they should receive a decision within 8 weeks if minimum income and English language requirements are required, or 12 weeks if applying under the ‘Private Life’ category where minimum income and English Language are not required once they’ve attended their biometric appointment or applied online/provided documentation (if no appointment is required). It may be possible to expedite the applications for a quicker decision by using either the Priority or Super Priority services if they are available at the time of application. The latest processing times for those applying from inside the UK can be viewed here.

Those applying for a Family route visa from outside the UK, should get a decision within 24 weeks once they have either attended their appointment at the visa application centre (VAC)or used the ID Check app and submitted their application/supporting documents. If paying extra to use the priority visa services, you would normally expect to receive a decision within 6 weeks of the biometric appointment, although delays are still being experienced in some cases. The latest processing times for those applying from outside the UK can be viewed here.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/visa-processing-times-applications-outside-the-uk

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/visa-processing-times-applications-inside-the-uk

 

Veristat Services

Training on IDSPs, the Skilled Worker or Student routes/Right to Work/Forgery

We provide comprehensive training on all aspects of immigration, including IDSPs, the Student route, the Skilled Worker route, Right to Work and the identification of fraudulent documents. Our sessions include the recent changes being brought about by the 2021 points-based immigration system and how employers and education providers can be prepared moving forwards.

All training can be provided in person at the client’s site or remotely via Microsoft teams/Zoom.

If you think your organisation would benefit from training in any of these areas, please contact us for a quote by emailing us at  enquiries@veristat.co.uk. If you would like to discuss the contents of our training packages or require a bespoke training package to be delivered, please call us on 01344 624016 or email us as above.

  

Sponsor licence applications

Employers or education providers wishing to employ EEA/EU nationals or non-EEA nationals who do not have right to work need to apply for a Sponsorship licence.

We provide a comprehensive advice and support package to employers and education providers applying for a licence. This can include preparation for a Home Office (UKVI) visit and training on the new Skilled Worker or Student routes and the SMS system, as well as assistance with applying for Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) or Confirmation for Acceptance for Studies (CAS) and a step-by-step guide for completing the application itself.

Please email us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk or by telephone on 01344 624016 for further details and/or a quote for helping you with your application. 

 

Audits and Inspections

Veristat is hugely experienced in providing compliance audits across all immigration routes. We have worked with hundreds of employers, ranging from small family businesses to multi-nationals, high street retailers and professional sports/football clubs. In the education sector, we have worked with over 30 universities and a significant number of colleges and schools.

Our audit/inspection service is fully flexible and can be tailored to individual requirements. It is  based on sound practical experience of UKVI’s policies, culture and approach.

  • For employers, we offer on-site Skilled Worker or ICT compliance inspections (with staff aware or unaware to simulate an announced or unannounced UKVI visit). We also offer right to work compliance visits.
  • For education providers, our service ranges from a “lite” health-check to a comprehensive review of student route activities, assessing compliance with UKVI requirements and sharing best practice. We also offer targeted inspections covering specific issues, such as BCA, Skilled Worker compliance, policies, student unions, relationships with partner institutions, etc.

On completion, we can provide a comprehensive, evidence-based report, together with an assessment of how compliant the business or institution is with UKVI’s requirements. We will support the introduction of change if required and offer a ‘spot check’ follow up service at a later date if beneficial to reassure management that recommendations have been implemented.

If you are interested in booking an audit/inspection, please call us on 01344 624016 or email us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk.

Please note we are also now offering remote audits and inspections- please contact us for more details.

 

File Inspection Days

If you’re unsure whether you require a full compliance audit or specific training but would like an independent check of your files to ensure they are fully compliant with Home Office requirements, we can provide a UKVI file compliance inspection of either your staff or student files.

Depending on the number of employees/students you have, we would either check all files or an agreed sample. After the inspection has taken place, we would provide a written report outlining any risks, feedback and recommendations.

For further information or a quote for our file inspection days, please call us on 01344 624016 or email us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk.

 

Advice/Support packages

We offer advice/support packages on either a fixed rate monthly retainer basis or on a fixed-hourly basis, which can include a number of our services, such as: acting as your Level 1 user, issuing of CoS/CAS, immigration audit, etc.  If you do not require ongoing retainer advice/support, we offer either 5- or 10-hour annual support packages at reduced rates.

If you are interested in discussing our retainer or hourly advice/support packages further, then please contact us on 01344 624016 or email us at enquiries@veristat.co.uk

 

To download and print a pdf version of the monthly update, please click here.

 

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