Immigration Rules Change:  Major Salary Increase Restricts Access to Sponsored Workers

14 March 2024

A new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules has been published this afternoon. This introduces new laws which restrict the sponsoring of migrant workers and requires higher salaries to be paid than previously for such sponsorship to happen. The changes are to take effect from 4th April.

These changes raise the general salary threshold which must be paid to sponsored Skilled Workers from £26,200 to £38,700. For Senior or Specialist Workers in the Global Business Mobility routes, the general salary threshold is being updated from £45,800 to £48,500. The new Rules also replace the Shortage Occupation List with a new Immigration Salary List, which includes an assessment of if the Government considers it sensible to offer a discounted salary threshold.

Two matters which have been raised as potential concerns are addressed within the Rules. There are protective transitional arrangements within the Rules regarding those granted permission to stay before 4th April 2024 who are sponsored in roles which pay less than £38,700, which can potentially run through to future applications up to 2030. It means the prospect of employees who qualified for permission to stay no longer doing so In future has gone, something about which the Government were more equivocal when these proposals were first announced in December last year. The existing Skilled Worker salary discounts regarding relevant PhD qualifications, “new entrants” to the labour market, and national pay scale occupations are being retained and updated also.

The salary increase in many cases is significantly higher than £38,700 because the going rate salaries have also been amended, to be set at the 50th percentile of the average rather than the current 25th percentile. It remains necessary that this criterion is met as well as the general salary threshold. If seeking to sponsor an applicant in the category “Chartered and certified accountants” (SOC 2421) for example, the minimum experienced worker salary has increased from £31,300 to £46,800; just below a 50% increase and one which would rule out many fully qualified applicants at present.

It does seem clear that a high percentage of roles which currently allow sponsorship will no longer do so. The effect of introducing a control on the number of such sponsorships based primarily on salary is to limit this to those best able to pay; no impact is likely on those offering experienced, professional services roles in London and the South East, for example, but it will increasingly limit access to global talent for smaller companies, those based elsewhere in the UK and involved in historically less well paid occupations such as engineering and scientific research. One wonders how this has been considered when balancing the effect against a desire to reduce net migration. The last time Certificates of Sponsorship were significantly limited based on salary was in 2016, when the Home Office’s previous monthly quota system went spectacularly wrong and left all but the very highest paid unable to access sponsorship. Is the Government prepared for the consequences of this, or will ad hoc solutions to allow specific industries to access sponsorship be necessary again?

How can employers address this? As with all immigration announcements which impact sponsored workers, HR teams are likely to face a series of queries about the changes from employees, many of whom will be worried about what this may mean for their future residence in the UK. More generally, we suggest this is an excellent time for processes to be reviewed and, in particular, for review of all planned recruitment which will involve sponsorship; both the general salary threshold and the going rate salaries are to change on 4th April and it will be necessary to double-check both before proceeding with sponsorship.

We have prepared a brief set of Frequently Asked Questions regarding these changes, which help to explain some of the more common queries about this. The guide can be accessed here.

Simon Kenny
Partner - Immigration
Simon Kenny, immigration lawyer who helps with individual immigration applications, permission to work, illegal working penalties and sponsor licence suspension. He specialises in Skilled Worker and sponsor licence applications, right-to-work processes and defences to civil penalties