The winds of change are blowing strong in the world of UK immigration. As we wrapped up 2023 and look ahead to 2024, several monumental policy shifts have already emerged at the end of 2023 that will significantly impact migrants and employers alike.
In the last quarter of 2023, the Home Office published its anticipated amendments to the Immigration Rules. With the stated aim of reducing net migration, the government is raising barriers across multiple visa routes. From harsher income thresholds to abolished worker discounts, overseas citizens face a tougher uphill battle to gain UK entry and sponsorship.
For employment route visa hopefuls worldwide, the new reality dawns that financial requirements are skyrocketing. Skilled worker salaries face a staggering increase from £25,600 up to £38,700 in early 2025. The same daunting threshold will also extend to Intra-Company Transfers, with healthcare as the lone exempted sector. Applicants denied on financial grounds will face a mounting uphill battle.
Partner and family visas are likewise impacted. The minimum income threshold for bringing a spouse or dependents to the UK will step up in phases during 2024, until it reaches about £38,700 in early 2025. Care workers won’t be allowed to sponsor any dependents at all. Students seeing family will encounter tighter rules, with a full review underway of the graduate route.
The statement of changes also foreshadows an overhaul of the Shortage Occupation List. Most notably, the current option to hire shortage workers at 20% below the going rate will soon be eliminated. Care providers must register with the Care Quality Commission to sponsor workers.
Beyond climbing financial bars, the permitted activities under certain routes are expanding to support UK businesses. The Intra-Company Transfer category will now enable visiting overseas employees to undertake client work like training, advising, and consulting. This enhances current allowances focused on internal company needs.
Moreover, visitors are officially authorized to handle remote work duties related to their foreign employment, as long as it’s not the primary reason for their stay. The updated guidance confirms what many travellers likely assumed was acceptable already.
Overseas legal professionals have also gained more flexibility to render services for UK-based clients under the visitor route. Activities such as giving advice, appearing in court and arbitrations, drafting contracts, and transactional work are now approved.
The amendments make it easier for speakers to enter as well, by absorbing the permitted paid engagement route into the standard visitor category. And academics can carry out research for overseas employers, not just independent efforts.
In tandem with the rule changes, the Home Office has intensified its crackdown on employers utilizing illegal labour. Make no mistake – the ramifications for flouting compliance are higher than ever. Fines for each breach have swelled up to £60,000 maximum, with no liability defence for those skipping right to work checks.
Recent Article 8 rulings signal a strict approach to family and private life appeals. In Afzal v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 4, the Supreme Court confirmed that overstay periods are excluded when calculating the 10 years of continuous residence required. Only a successful in-time application under limited leave provisions can maintain continuity.
The Court of Appeal decision in Kaur v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1353 overturned a previous Upper Tribunal judgment regarding relocation and citizenship issues. The Tribunal had wrongly assumed both spouses held Indian citizenship based on uncorroborated evidence. This mistaken assumption critically flawed the analysis of their ability to reintegrate in India together.
Other principles were reaffirmed, like the need for objective evidence on reintegration obstacles per NC v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1379. Subjective perceptions alone are inadequate. All likely aspects upon return must be weighed, including reasonable mitigation steps.
In summary, the burden remains on appellants to prove serious personal consequences and their own hindrances to integration abroad as reconfirmed in THTN  EWCA Civ 1222 under the Paposhvili principals.
With that, we expect a high bar for private life claims premised on UK family ties.
The developments reported above merely scratch the surface of the immigration updates currently rocking practitioners’ worlds. As trusted advisors, we must stay two steps ahead. Mastering these evolving laws and policies will empower us to steer clients through the immigration maze with clarity and compassion.
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Onwards we press, into 2024 and beyond!
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