Law

Immigration Matters – A guide to the changes made to the Skilled Worker system in April 2024

By Charlotte Farrell and Tabytha Cunningham [email protected]

Published: May 22, 2024 | Updated: 22nd May 2024

April 2024 was a significant month for employers who currently sponsor or may wish recruit non-UK nationals via the Skilled Worker route.

Several changes were introduced by the Government as part of their drive to reduce net migration to the UK, which considerably limit the number of roles eligible for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route.

These include increases to the minimum salary that must be paid to skilled workers and a prohibition on health and social care workers bringing their dependants with them to the UK.

What is a Skilled Worker Visa?

A skilled worker visa allows the applicant to work and live in the UK to do an eligible job with an approved employer, known as a sponsor. Employers that wish to sponsor workers are required to apply for approval from the Home Office to hold a sponsor licence, enabling them to issue certificates of sponsorship for this purpose.

Certificates can only be issued for vacancies which are listed on the list of eligible occupations, which is maintained by the Home Office and published on the gov.uk website; and which meet specified minimum salary requirements. Once a certificate of sponsorship has been issued, the individual worker can then use this certificate in support of their personal visa application to enter or remain in the UK, demonstrating via this application that they meet key requirements, such as sufficient knowledge of English.

What changes have been made?

In order to be eligible for a skilled worker visa, the employer must be able to demonstrate the role meets minimum salary requirements. There are two rates that apply – an overarching minimum salary requirement and the going rate which is specified by the Home Office for each eligible role. The employer must pay whichever is the higher of the two.

As of 4 April 2024, the overarching minimum salary which an employer must pay a Skilled Worker has increased by almost 50% from £26,200 to £38,700 per year. In addition, the ‘going rate’ for each eligible occupation will now increase in line with the average full-time wage for equivalent jobs.

This change effectively prices many roles out of the skilled worker system. Whilst many of these roles are still eligible for sponsorship in theory, in practice, it will no longer be affordable for employers to sponsor skilled workers in these roles as the minimum salary requirement now significantly exceeds the established market rate for the role.

Employers should note that there are some exceptions to the minimum salary requirement – most notably individuals that are classed as new entrants to the labour market because they are switching from student or graduate visas or are under the age of 26 may be able to benefit from a lower salary requirement of £30,960, or between 70-90% of the going rate for a limited period, subject to some limitations.

Workers in roles eligible under the health and social care visa also excluded from the increase in the minimum salary threshold, however, the immigration rules have been changed so that people applying for this visa after 11 March 2024 will not be able to bring their dependent family members to the UK with them.

Considering applying for a sponsor licence?

With ongoing recruitment challenges and the ending of free movement for EU citizens, more employers than ever have been considering applying for a sponsor licence to increase their options when recruiting for key vacancies. An application for a sponsor licence can either be made based on a general recruitment need, or where a candidate requiring sponsorship has already been identified – for example a skilled worker who is looking to a switch employer or a graduate currently working under a graduate visa which is shortly due to expire.

Before starting this process, employers should ensure that they are satisfied both that the relevant roles would meet the requirements for sponsorship, and that they can comply with the t reporting, record keeping and other compliance obligations that apply to sponsors.

Where an employer identifies that they may need to sponsor an existing employee or job applicant it is important to bear in mind that the process for applying for a sponsor licence can take some time, with applications currently taking around 8 weeks to be processed and strict requirements in relation to the supporting evidence and documentation employers must provide.

Paris Smith LLP’s next training session – Thinking of becoming a sponsor – will take place on 25 September 2024.

For further information please see their website-  https://parissmith.co.uk/event/thinking-of-becoming-a-sponsor-webinar/

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