04 April 2024

Significant amendments to the UK’s immigration rules come into effect on 4 April 2024. The updated rules incorporate a wide range of changes impacting on several key immigration routes, so there is a lot for employers to take in. In this article, we summarise the changes and set out key actions for employers to take in order to assess how their organisation will be impacted.

What is changing?

The immigration rules govern individuals’ entry to, and permission to stay in, the UK. They are periodically updated through the publication of a document referred to as a ‘Statement of Changes’. On 14 March 2024, the Home Office published one of the most significant Statement of Changes in recent years - approaching nearly 300 pages and setting out a host of amendments to many of the main immigration routes into the UK. Amongst other things, it details new salary rules and thresholds, updated job codes to use, transitional measures which apply in certain circumstances as well as a new Immigration Salary List.

Given the breadth of the amendments, full details of all the changes are beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we have expanded on what we see as the top four changes that we anticipate will have the biggest impact on organisations. These are:

  • Increases to the general salary threshold – Many of the most commonly-used business immigration routes into the UK require the individual to be paid a minimum salary, known as the ‘general salary threshold’. The general salary threshold for several routes has increased from 4 April 2024. The most significant increase is to the Skilled Worker route - the majority of those applying for a Skilled Worker visa using a Certificate of Sponsorship assigned to them by their sponsor (usually their employer) on or after 4 April 2024 will need to be paid at least £38,700 (up from £26,200) per year, unless they can rely on a discounted rate or transitional thresholds apply. Different thresholds apply to those on national pay scales or those applying for Health and Care visas.
  • Increases to the going rates – In addition to being paid at least the general salary threshold, many routes also require that the individual is paid the minimum salary rate associated with the particular role they will be carrying out in the UK. Where this is different to the general salary threshold, the individual must be paid the higher of the two. Every job that is eligible for sponsorship is associated with a Standard Occupational Classification Code (known as a SOC Code) and has its own minimum salary (known as a ‘going rate’). These going rates also increased from 4 April 2024. For example, Skilled Worker visa applicants being sponsored under the SOC Code associated with Programmers and Software Development Professionals need to be paid at least £49,400 (up from £34,000) per year, unless they can use a discounted rate or transitional thresholds apply.
  • Replacement of the Shortage Occupation List – The Shortage Occupation List set out jobs which faced significant skills shortages in the UK and enabled sponsors to apply a 20% discount to the going rate to those jobs. This list has been removed and replaced with a shorter ‘Immigration Salaries List’ (ISL). The 20% discount to the going rate for roles on the ISL has been removed, although roles on the ISL will benefit from a reduced general salary threshold, which is normally £30,960 (unless transitional measures or other discounted rates apply).
  • Updates to SOC Codes – The list of SOC Codes eligible for sponsorship has been updated, so sponsors will need to check that they are using the correct SOC Code when assigning Certificates of Sponsorship and check that the job is still eligible for sponsorship. Some jobs have been removed from the list as part of the reshuffle, meaning that certain roles are no longer eligible for sponsorship (unless an individual is extending their permission to undertake one of these roles and they stay with the same employer).

The changes will affect employees and job applicants who require immigration permission to work in the UK, although the extent to which each individual is affected will depend on their particular circumstances (including whether they are covered by the transitional arrangements). More generally, the changes could have a significant impact upon organisations’ global mobility and recruitment strategies moving forward, as new applicants will be covered by the new rules without the benefit of the reduced rates that have been set out in the transitional arrangements.

So, what should employers be doing at this stage? We set out below our take on the key actions for employers to consider in the coming months.

Key action points for employers

  • Review any ongoing or upcoming recruitment and your recruitment strategy more generally and assess whether they will be impacted by these changes.

If you have vacancies which have historically been eligible for sponsorship under routes such as the Skilled Worker route, you will need to check whether they will continue to be eligible for sponsorship under the new rules before committing to offer sponsorship to successful candidates. As salary thresholds have increased and the list of occupations eligible for sponsorship has reduced, employers may find that roles that were previously eligible for sponsorship no longer meet the eligibility criteria and may find it more difficult to help applicants secure the right to work in the UK. This could be a particular challenge for entry-level jobs and roles on graduate schemes & apprenticeship programmes due to the increase in salary thresholds. Bear in mind that, even if applicants are eligible for a discount to the general salary threshold or going rates (for example, by meeting the ‘new entrant’ criteria), the new thresholds are significantly higher than under the old rules.

  • Identify those of your employees with time-limited permission to work in the UK.

All employers are required to conduct right to work checks before employment commences to demonstrate that an individual has the right to work in the UK. Employers are also required to carry out follow up right to work checks for anyone with time-limited permission to work in the UK (i.e. where the employee has demonstrated their right to work up to a particular date, compared to someone who has been able to demonstrate that they have a right to work permanently in the UK).

In light of the immigration rule changes, you may wish to check that you have adequate systems in place to identify those employees who have time-limited permission in good time before this permission is due to expire. Remember that, as well as ensuring that your right to work checks are carried out, recorded and kept under review in a legally compliant way, you also need to ensure that you avoid any discriminatory treatment of individuals in how this is done.

  • As each employee approaches the expiry date of their current visa, assess the potential immigration routes available.

If an individual’s visa is not due to expire for, say, three years, looking at the visa routes that may be available to them now is unlikely to be an efficient use of time and resources, particularly as the immigration rules can sometimes change at relatively short notice. Instead, you should focus your attention on those with visas that are due to expire in the near future and consider the potential visa routes that may be available to those individuals for the purpose of extending their right to work in the UK.

As this exercise might take some time, and you will need to factor in time that may be required to support an individual’s visa application, you may wish to build in more time for those employees who may require sponsorship to retain their right to work. As a general guide, this is likely to include those who you currently sponsor, such as those under any of the Global Business Mobility routes or the Skilled Worker route. It is also likely to include employees on other routes with time-limited permission, such as the Student, Graduate, Youth Mobility and High Potential Individual routes. Those with time-limited permission under routes such as the EU Settlement Scheme, family route or as the dependant of a sponsored worker are less likely to require sponsorship in order to retain their right to work (although that is not always the case).

To understand the potential options open to an individual, you will need to first assess whether they will meet the requirements under the transitional arrangements (if applicable) or the new rules. The scope of the transitional arrangements depends on the route that the individual is currently on. For example, under the transitional arrangements for Skilled Workers, those who were granted permission as a Skilled Worker under the rules that were in place before 4 April 2024 and who have maintained continuous permission will benefit from reduced salary thresholds and other concessions up until 3 April 2030. If an individual is not covered by the transitional rules, the new thresholds and other rules will apply and there could be a marked difference between those and the levels that applied at the time of their previous application.

As well as considering which visa routes an individual may be eligible to apply for at the point of renewal, you should also consider whether you can support the individual to apply for indefinite leave to remain (if they are eligible). Indefinite leave to remain gives an individual the right to live and work in the UK permanently. Individuals must normally have lived and worked in the UK for a minimum period of time and meet certain salary and financial requirements, although the rules vary depending on their current immigration status and whether they have a family member in the UK who is a British citizen or who themselves has indefinite leave to remain. If an employee is eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, it is usually one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways for an employer to ensure that its employee can continue to live and work for them in the UK.

  • Plan ahead by supporting employees with visa applications or considering alternatives.

If you have identified a potential visa route to enable an individual to extend their right to work in the UK, you should ensure the individual applies for this visa in good time, supporting them as required. Most importantly, you should ensure that they apply before their current permission expires. Individuals will temporarily retain their right to work in the UK provided that they submit a valid and in-time visa application or extension before their current permission expires. This means that, even if their current visa expires while their application for a new visa is being processed, they will temporarily continue to have the right to work for you in the UK based on the conditions of their recently expired visa (although you will still need to verify this by conducting a right to work check in accordance with the employer’s guide on right to work checks, which can be found here: Right to work checks: an employer's guide - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)). 

If, on your initial investigations, you are unable to identify a potential visa route or other option (such as indefinite leave to remain) that the individual would be eligible to apply for, you should consider taking legal advice on your next steps and the options available in light of the legal requirement to only employ individuals who have a valid right to work in the UK. It takes time to explore the different routes and options available, and to give the individual every opportunity to prove their right to work in the UK – a further reason why it is important to check-in with employees who have time-limited permission to work in the UK in plenty of time before their visa is due to expire.

  • Review your processes and policies for conducting right to work checks, sponsorship and immigration matters to ensure they align with the latest guidance on right to work checks and the immigration rules.

Lots of things are changing under the new rules, from changing salary thresholds, new SOC Codes and the reduction in the number of roles that are eligible for sponsorship, so it is easy to lose track of them. Make sure that you take a close look at any processes, policy documents and contractual terms that relate to right to work checks and immigration matters to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and legally compliant. If out-of-date processes are followed, this could risk a visa application being refused by the Home Office or compliance action being taken if you are a sponsor (such as the revocation of a sponsor licence). To ensure everyone is up-to-date, you may also want to consider training for the members of your HR or People teams who are responsible for onboarding employees and/or overseeing visa renewal applications.

We advise many of the UK’s best-known employers, as well as overseas businesses, on the immigration and employment aspects of recruiting and employing overseas nationals in the UK. If you have any questions, please get in touch with our Business Immigration team.


This briefing gives general information only and is not intended to be an exhaustive statement of the law. Although we have taken care over the information, you should not rely on it as legal advice. We do not accept any liability to anyone who does rely on its content.

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Katie Russell Partner

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