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Further changes to the UK immigration system in effort to reduce overall migration into the UK

Post-Brexit we saw significant changes made to the then Tier 2 (General) visa route when it was revamped into the Skilled Worker visa. Employers were promised that, following the end to freedom of movement from the EU, the Skilled Worker route would allow continued access to overseas workers to plug any gaps in labour or skill. At the time, this commitment was very much upheld by the government, and the Skilled Worker route offered a very useful quid pro quo. However, the recent tranche of changes is likely to present significant hurdles from a financial perspective to employers who wish to engage overseas migrants.

We have summarised the key changes, which came into effect from 04 April 2024 , below:

Increased minimum salary threshold

The general salary threshold will increase from £26,200 to £38,700 per year. The good news is those already in the UK and sponsored on the Skilled Worker route will benefit from the transitional provisions to extend, change employer or apply for settlement. For these individuals the general threshold will increase to £29,000.

Tradeable points will still be available to claim in certain circumstances, to discount the salary threshold by up to 30% – for example, new entrants into the labour market will benefit from this discount, subject to satisfying the relevant criteria.

Increased standard occupation classification (SOC) code going rates

Whilst the effect of an increased minimum salary threshold is obvious, it may transpire that the SOC code increases for certain roles may in fact be more impactful.

Prior to the changes, the ‘going rates’ for sponsored roles were based on the 25th percentile of earnings, across different occupations, and based on recorded salary data. Now, the salary requirement is increased to the median level of earnings. The change will not apply to those already in the route, as this will continue to be based on the 25th percentile.

It is important to bear in mind that, in order to satisfy the salary requirements, the migrant individual must be paid the higher of the general salary, or their applicable SOC code. Some of the minimum salary requirements for the role are significant – for example, the SOC codes associated with Programmers and Software Development Professionals need to be paid at least £49,400 (up from £34,000) per year, unless they can use a discounted rate or transitional thresholds apply.

The impact of such an uplift to the minimum salary requirement could be a significant decrease in the use of the Skilled Worker route for such roles, given the salary requirement could be at the top end, if not greater, than the sector standard.

Updates to SOC codes

Not only have the salary requirements been updated, but the SOC code list itself has also be changed, with several codes being changed, and some falling away (meaning they are no longer capable of sponsorship, unless a transitional measure applies).

When applying for or creating a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), employers should check the SOC code to ensure that it is still valid. Eligible SOC codes for the Skilled Worker route can be found in SOC 2020, Table 1.

Replacement of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)

We have previously reported on significant planned changes in the pipeline for the SOL, following recommendations from the government’s advisory body, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), and we can confirm that such changes have now been actioned.

The SOL has been replaced with the Immigration Salaries List (ISL), scrapping the 20% discount to going rates for the included roles. ISL roles will benefit from a reduced general salary threshold, which is generally £30,960 (unless transitional arrangements or other discounts apply). However, ISL occupations must be paid at least the ‘going rate’ for its corresponding SOC code, meaning that in some circumstances the 20% discount will be of no benefit.

Further questions?

This is intended to provide a broad summary of the key changes to the Skilled Worker route. If you would like more information about these, or the other changes which came into effect from 04 April 2024, please do get in touch with the Immigration team.