Our predictions for UK immigration policy in 2024

Migrate UK share their predictions for UK immigration policy in 2024 with Personnel Today Magazine

After the controversial hike in skilled worker minimum visa salary this week, what else lies on the agenda for immigration policy next year, and how can employers prepare? Karendeep Kaur explains. 

It has been another busy year for government immigration policy continuing to make the headlines, not least this week when home secretary James Cleverly said the annual salary to receive a UK work visa would climb to £38,700 from £26,200.

But with skills shortages ongoing in many sectors, HR teams will still need to consider how legal immigration mechanisms can support their workforce planning needs next year. So can they plan ahead, or should they expect more surprises?

UKVI Fines and punishments for illegal migrants

With an election on the horizon, there is likely to be a continuation of government policy geared towards illegal immigration. This week’s announcements already include dramatic changes to legal immigration policy, with the Home Secretary’s five-point plan to slash migration by 300,000.

The announcement confirmed the Home Office will increase the minimum salary for foreign workers to a staggering £38,700 – a backtrack from the December 2020 changes where the minimum salary threshold dropped from £30,000 to £25,600.

The latest ONS immigration figures, which saw an increase in net migration to the UK higher than previously reported, appears to have ignited this new drive to greatly reduce the number of immigrants coming to the UK.

The Home Office’s other focus is on penalties for those who hire illegal migrants and denying status, such as refugee leave, to those who arrive in the UK illegally on or after 7 March 2023 – unless denying this would amount to a serious breach of their Human Rights.

While the government did not place a limit on skilled workers in its latest announcement, and instead concentrated on limiting dependents within the health and care visa in the same way as student dependants from January 2024, this will make up the majority of the anticipated drop of 300,000 in net migration figures.

Fee increases to Health Surcharge

We should also expect the government to continue to impose deliberate restrictions in the form of fee increases and skills charges on organisations attempting to secure candidates.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has already increased fees for a range of immigration routes, including the cost of a certificate of sponsorship and work visa applications. The increase of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) from £624 to £1,035 per annum, is scheduled for 16 January 2024 and we expect this could continue.

But with the latest estimated number of UK job vacancies for August to October 2023 just under a million at 957,000, according to the ONS, existing and new clients are continuing to tell us that while faced with this new plan they’re struggling to hire the talent they need.

We’re advising businesses who plan to hire in 2024 to submit applications before 16 January 2024.

Also, if there is a current recruitment drive, consider the additional fees applicable to either the business or future employees and set time aside to understand the overall impact on all involved.

Home Office digitisation

As more and more Home Office processes become digital, expect migrant statuses to do the same, as physical Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) will be abolished from the end of 2024.

With HR normally responsible for onboarding employees, it’s important to be aware of any new government right-to-work checks.

For example, from 31 December 2024 the Home Office will no longer issue physical BRP cards, instead, all migrants will have an online immigration status.

UKVI will be providing guidance by mid-2024 on how this change will be reflected. According to its website, individuals do not need to do anything, and their immigration status will not be affected.

The onus is on the employer to monitor ‘key dates’ and have these recorded for review and action, especially for those under immigration control. The new digitised migrant statuses will also protect businesses from accepting false documentation that they may be unaware of.

We advise that an employer obtains a share code from their employees and uses the online digital employer right-to-work check where possible, for a real-time check for evidence of the right to work with UKVI for the time-being.

More sponsor licences

With more and more businesses opting to apply for a sponsor licence to source overseas talent, this is further proof that the UK is still very much reliant on overseas labour.

With the new fee increases introduced on 4 October 2023 and the IHS increase scheduled for 16 January 2024, the next reporting period will determine whether these increases are proving to be a detriment for organisations, or as likely to be the case many organisations will continue to apply for a licence to source the overseas talent needed.

Shortage Occupation List to go?

With the latest ONS figures to June 2023 showing net migration has increased, the government has already found it tempting to ‘show action’ on the Shortage Occupation List.

Cleverly has already said the 20% salary discount for roles on the list would be removed, and the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is to review its recommendations on whether it will be fully removed.

The Shortage Occupation List could still exist in some form, however, as there has been a brief mention that a special salary rate will be applied to the roles on a new Immigration Salary List.

However, we think it would be more useful to businesses for the government to update the blanket RQF-level structure by removing those job codes that are clearly of no benefit.

With businesses still struggling to recruit talent, a total removal of the Shortage Occupation List would be a detriment, especially with many jobs such as construction trades only added earlier this year and highly welcomed by those in the industry due to ongoing shortages.

Preparing for skills shortages

Following the increase in visa fees, UK businesses are beginning to feel the strain on securing overseas talent with smaller organisations in particular, not able to afford the visa costs or to meet the salary threshold to assist a migrant worker to come to the UK.

Planning is key for employers to ensure they budget for additional costs, forecast hiring needs well in advance and arrange sponsor licences ready for recruitment.

It is also good practice to notify potential candidates which fees an organisation is willing to cover and what they need to arrange.

Some industries are also experimenting with paying for visas in other countries, allowing employees to work remotely from overseas as opposed to having to pay UK immigration fees.

This will not be desired or suitable in all sectors, but adoption of this strategy more widely would also have a knock-on effect on the economy in the long run. 2024 looks certain to be another eventful year for immigration policy.

Ask our experts

If you are affected by any of the above, or would like more information on how to plan ahead for 2024, get in touch with the team here at Migrate UK.


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