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Legal insights & industry updates

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A busy week for immigration law – a roundup of this week’s major changes

Time in the world of immigration law never stands still and this week was no exception with a number of big announcements and changes to the immigration rules. We take a look at some of the biggest headlines from this week below.

Immigration fee increase 

Unfortunately for migrants and employers alike, immigration fees have been targeted by the Treasury as a way to raise additional revenue to partially fund pay increases for public sector workers. On 13 July the Treasury announced that immigration fees would be increased by at least 15% - 20% and the immigration health surcharge would increase from £624 per year to an eye-watering £1,035 per year (a lower rate of £776 will apply to students and minors). Immigration fees are already high so these hikes will place a significant extra financial burden on sponsors and individuals.

The government has not yet announced an implementation date for these changes but it is reported that new fee regulations paving the way for the increases will be laid before Parliament in the autumn. It would therefore be prudent for those contemplating an application to consider making it early, where possible. It would also be wise for employers to review their recruitment budgets to factor in these additional costs where they are reliant on sponsored workers to fill gaps in their workforce.

Construction and fishing sectors to benefit from changes to the Shortage Occupation List 

Following recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee, roles within the construction and fishing sectors are to be added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The changes are due to come into effect on 7 August 2023. Jobs on the SOL benefit from lower salary requirements for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route, and importantly in light of the recent fee increase announcement, lower visa application fees.

The following occupations are being added to the SOL:

  • 5312 Bricklayers and masons
  • 5313 Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
  • 5315 Carpenters and joiners
  • 5319 Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified
  • 5321 Plasterers
  • 5119 Agriculture and fishing trades not elsewhere classified
  • 9119 Fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations not elsewhere classified

Restrictions on students switching and bringing dependants 

The government had previously announced plans to prevent international students from switching to work routes whilst in the UK unless they had completed their course of study. Students who have completed at least two years of a PhD course or whose work start date on their Certificate of Sponsorship is after their course completion date will still be able to switch.

This change was formally announced in the Statement of Changes laid before Parliament on 17 July 2023, with the changes coming into effect at 3pm the same day. This immediate change to the rules is out of step with normal practice to provide at least 21 days’ notice. In the government’s explanatory memorandum, the speed of the change was justified as necessary to warrant against an influx of applications.

Another change affecting students is that students will no longer be able to be accompanied to the UK by their dependants unless they are studying for a research-based postgraduate degree, PhD or other doctoral qualification. These changes will apply to those students starting courses from 1 January 2024 onwards and therefore will not affect the plans of those due to start courses later this year.

It will be interesting to see what impact these changes will have on the number of international students choosing the UK as their study destination, and in turn, the financial impact on UK universities which are heavily reliant on the fees generated by these students.

Changes to the EU Settlement Scheme

Amongst the various changes, there is positive news for EEA nationals with status under the European Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The Government announced that it plans to automatically renew the pre-settled status of EU nationals before it expires for a period of two years if they have not already obtained settled status. This change will come into force in September 2023.

These changes seek to implement the judgment of a successful judicial review brought by the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA). In that case, the IMA challenged the Home Office’s position of requiring EEA citizens with pre-settled status to make a second application to the EUSS or face losing their rights of residence, which are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.

There are also plans to automatically convert those with pre-settled to settled status once eligible, without the need to make an application. This will involve the Home Office carrying out automated checks with other government departments such as the DWP and HMRC to establish the individual’s continuous residence in the UK.

In less positive news, two existing EUSS routes will close on 8 August; the Zambrano route (for primary carers of a British citizen) and the Surinder Singh route (for family members of British citizens who had previously exercised their free movement rights in another EU member state upon their return to the UK). Both routes fall outwith the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement and in making this week’s announcement, the Home Office said it was bringing to an end generous transitional provisions.

Changes to the visa national list 

Five new countries have been added to the visa national list. This means that nationals of Dominica, Honduras, Namibia, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu will no longer be eligible for visa-free visits to the UK and will need to apply for a visit visa before travelling to the UK. These changes were announced on 19 July 2023 and came into force on the same day.

A concession has been made to a small minority of individuals. Those that already had confirmed bookings to the UK made on or before 15:00 BST on 19 July 2023 can still travel to the UK without a visitor visa provided they arrive no later than 16 August 2023.

For advice and assistance in understanding these changes, please get in touch with a member of our team to discuss further.