Work immigration changes HR teams should be aware of in 2023

Springtime, and the Home Office has announced a number of work immigration changes rolling out across next year. Below is a summary of key changes HR teams should be aware of.

Most of these changes are to employer-sponsored immigration routes and have emerged in the latest Spring Statement of Changes of Immigration Rules, Treasury announcements as well as a new addition to the rules around Scale-up visas just published and the latest Home Office amendments to Workers and Temporary Workers – Guidance for Sponsors.


Worker migration in the UK:

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Employers face a growing rift in government on hiring talent from abroad

The backdrop to these government announcements is continued shortage of labour, despite a somewhat stagnating economy. Real wages have stagnated too in the face of inflation which still hasn’t abated.

The combination of high vacancy levels at a time of low unemployment and declining labour force participation makes for a very tight labour market, in common with many other OECD economies. And in common with many governments around the world, ours appears divided over what role work immigration should play in economic progress.


Salary updates for sponsored migrant employees

A Home Office impact assessment published this week warns that although salary thresholds for employers sponsoring skilled workers had not been updated since they were introduced in December 2020, they are going up next month and “it is planned that the salaries and thresholds will be updated regularly to ensure they keep pace with the wider labour market".

There is a reminder that employers ensure migrant workers’ rates are not below the National Living Wage, increased to £10.42 from 1 April 2023.

The Home Office can refuse sponsor applications if they believe jobs do not comply. Employers are expected to retain evidence of sponsored workers opting out of the average 48 working hour maximum under Working Time Regulations in HR files.

To ensure sponsored migrant employees are not taken advantage of or used to undercut resident workers the Home Office announced the following adjustments to minimum salary levels for Certificates of Sponsorship made after 12 April.

If a Certificate of Sponsorship is issued before 12 April, current salary thresholds apply, but if issued from 12 April the new rates are as follows:

  • The minimum salary for Skilled Worker visa applicants rises from £25,600 to £26,200 unless they are
    • Skilled workers with a relevant PhD (minimum salary rises from £23,040 to £23,580)
    • Skilled workers with a relevant PhD in STEM, on the Shortage Occupation List, new entrants to the labour market and health or education sectors (from £20,480 to £20,960) 
  • Global Business Mobility Senior and Specialist Workers visa and UK Expansion Worker visa applicants’ minimum salary requirement rises from £42,400 to £45,800 
  • Global Business Mobility Graduate Trainee visas up from £23,100 to £24,220
  • Scale-up visa applicants from £33,000 to £34,600
  • Seasonal Worker visas for poultry workers (occupation codes 5431 or 5433) from £25,600 to £26,200

Employers sponsoring immigrant workers must meet the relevant minimum wage threshold for the visa or the going rate of pay for the particular job, whichever is highest.


Will Shortage Occupation List developments offer employers more relief?

Roles in short supply put on the Shortage Occupation List are easier to sponsor. For instance, at present migrant workers can be employed for 20% under the going rate for that occupation code as well as a low minimum salary threshold rising from £20,480 to just £20,960 in April.

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee identifies which jobs would benefit from going on the list.

It has just published an urgent interim report on 26 skilled worker occupation codes where going rates of pay may be low in the construction and hospitality industries; both sectors suffering from worker shortages well above average for the UK labour market.

The committee refused to add any hospitality occupations to the list. It had been hoped that chefs might be classed as shortage occupations, but the committee suggested that the hospitality industry improve pay and conditions to encourage and retain chefs from the resident labour market.


Changes sponsors of workers need to know about

Sponsoring employers should now be aware that being called to court as a witness or jury have both been added to permitted absences for continuity of employment assessments in the Spring changes.

On 31 March 2023, the Home Office also made a few clarifications and amendments on its guidance for sponsors of workers and temporary workers which are effective immediately.

The new guidance introduces a requirement for sponsors to report a change of work location when a sponsored worker moves into a 'hybrid working pattern' via the Sponsor Management System.

The guidance defines a hybrid working pattern for the first time as one where “the worker will work remotely on a regular and planned basis from their home or another address, such as a work hub space, that is not a client site or an address listed on your licence, in addition to regularly attending one or more of your offices or branches, or a client site".

It also makes clear that day-to-day changes need not be reported, only changes to regular working patterns.   


Employing workers offshore

The Home Office recently confirmed that the Offshore Wind Workers Concession will end on 30 April 2023 and will not be extended.

The Skilled Worker route is likely to be the most suitable route for these workers after that date.

In addition, Skilled Worker visa sponsorship will now apply to all employees working in UK waters and the UK territorial sea, which extends 12 nautical miles from the coast.

From 12 April, sponsors of offshore workers – or the workers themselves, if not sponsored – should notify the Home Office of their arrival and departure no earlier than the day of arrival or departure and no later than 10 business days after arrival or departure.


Innovator Founder visa launches next month

Like the old Start-up and Innovator visas it replaced on 13 April, the new Innovator Founder immigration route requires applicants to have a viable business plan endorsed but there is no requirement to invest £50,000 and the cost of endorsement by the new endorsing bodies is a fraction of what it was under the old routes - just £2,000 in total.

Unlike the Start-up visa, the Innovator Founder visa will be a route to settlement. Founders can work for other employers in the UK at the same time, which is good news for the UK’s tech and innovation sectors which are still waiting to hear who will take over endorsing the digitech Global Talent visa in the long term now that Tech Nation has lost government funding. "


Bilateral trade agreements and mobility schemes

Expect more work immigration concessions emerging from post-Brexit bilateral trade deals. For now, when the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement comes into force, Australian citizens or permanent residents on the Global Business Mobility Expansion Worker visa will no longer need to demonstrate that they have worked for an employer for the past year to be sponsored to set up a UK branch of a business.

Australia has been given an additional 5,000 places on the Youth Mobility Scheme allowing 18-30s to live in the UK for up to two years.

A total of 35,000 Australian nationals will be able to work in the UK on this basis in 2023 with the same opportunity for young Brits heading to Australia.

To put this into perspective, Australia has a 50th of the 1.4 billion population of India, who have been allotted just 3,000 places in the similar Young Professionals Scheme established in India’s post-Brexit trade negotiations with the UK – a small enough number that they need to be rationed by lottery, with the next one expected this summer.

The UK’s Youth Mobility Scheme agreement with New Zealand was also enhanced in the latest changes to the immigration rules, expanding the age range of those benefitting from the scheme from 18-30 to 18-35 and the length of stay from two to three years. Other countries’ quotas remain the same, apart from Canada whose allocation goes up 2,000 to 8,000.


Processing times

On an encouraging note, Home Office processing times for UK visas, including priority visas, appear to be continuously improving following the diversion of staff to the Ukraine schemes.

Vanessa Ganguin is managing partner at Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law