Immigration update: changes for work sponsors

read time: 5 mins

Following the home secretary’s announcement in December 2023, a number of changes to Skilled Worker sponsorship take effect from today, 4 April 2024. 

The headline change for employers sponsoring new Skilled Workers in the UK is that the cost of doing so is rising significantly. Employers who are sponsoring new Skilled Workers or are supporting an existing sponsored Skilled Worker with a visa extension, need to be aware of the significant changes to the Immigration Rules and how it will affect sponsorship moving forwards. 

This article highlights what is changing, whether applicants can still benefit from previous Immigration Rules and how the changes will affect existing sponsored workers.

What is changing? 

The main changes to the Immigration Rules are:

  1. The Standard Occupational Classification 2010 system currently used will be replaced with the newer Standard Occupational Classification 2020 system. The occupation codes are based on a system designed by the Office for National Statistics and are designed to cover all possible jobs eligible for sponsorship. Each role is assigned a four-digit Standard Occupational Classification code.
    • This will mean changes to some occupation code numbers and job descriptions. 
    • Employers should be mindful of the changes when carrying out Standard Occupational Classification code mapping for future roles. Getting the code wrong could result in an application being refused.
  2. An increase to the ‘general’ minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers
    • For most sponsored workers this will increase from £26,200 per annum to £38,700 per annum.
  3. Increased going rates for each Standard Occupational Classification code
    • Going rates have previously been based on the 25th percentile of earning across occupations based on official data. This is increasing to the median level of earning, i.e.  the 50th percentile.
    • Individuals already in the route will not be subject to the increase to the 50th percentile. They will however be subject to revised going rates based on the 25th percentile i.e. there will still be an increase but it won’t be quite as significant.
  4. Shortage Occupation List to be replaced with the Immigration Salary List
    • Previously, if a job was on the Shortage Occupation List, a list of 54 jobs, an individual could be paid 80% of the job’s usual going rate to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa. This is now being replaced with the much shorter Immigration Salary List, a list of 23 jobs.
    • The new Immigration Salary List includes jobs where the government thinks it is sensible to offer a discounted general salary threshold. However it does not include all roles experiencing shortages, as was the rules previously.
  5. Discounts to the minimum salary threshold will remain for those who are classed as New Entrants
    • New Entrants include those who are under 26 when they apply for their visa, those switching from student visas or those switching from graduate route visas into a Skilled Worker visa, amongst others.
    • For those being sponsored as a New Entrant on or after 4 April 2024, the general salary threshold will be £30,960, which is £10,000 higher than the previous rules.
    • A 30% discount to the going rate will apply. This will be subject to an obligation to pay no less than £15.88 per hour, increased from £10.75 per hour.

Can I still benefit from the previous Immigration Rules? 

If an applicant makes a visa application using a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) which was assigned before 4 April 2024, and it has not expired when the applicant makes their visa application, the application will be decided in line with the rules in force before 4 April 2024. 

The applicant must submit their visa application within three months of the CoS being assigned, and up to three months before the employment start date on the CoS. The previous Standard Occupational Classification 2010 codes and going rates would apply.  

Applying for a Skilled Worker Defined Certificate of Sponsorship 

Any Skilled Worker Defined Certificate of Sponsorship (DCoS) applications still outstanding at 7pm on 3 April 2024 will be cancelled. If cancelled, a new application will need to be made when the sponsor management system is up and running again at 9am on 5 April 2024 based on the new Immigration Rules. 

If a DCoS was granted before 7pm on 3 April 2024, and therefore granted with the previous Standard Occupational Classification 2010 code, it cannot be assigned to an individual from 4 April 2024. This is because it will now have the incorrect Standard Occupational Classification code, which cannot be amended. If not assigned, the DCoS will be cancelled and a fresh application for a DCoS will need to be made after 9am on 5 April 2024, based on the new Standard Occupational Classification 2020 codes and revised salary thresholds. 

Increasing or renewing your allocation of Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship

Applications for Undefined Certificate of Sponsorship (UCoS) made before 7pm on 3 April 2024 will be considered as normal. However, if the request is not decided and the UCoS is not assigned before 7pm on 3  April 2024, any UCoS assigned after that date must meet the new requirements of the Immigration Rules. 

Any UCoS with the status of ‘work in progress’ or ‘ready to go’ not assigned before 7pm on 3 April 2024, will need to be updated with the relevant Standard Occupational Classification 2020 code and must meet the revised salary thresholds before being assigned to a worker. 

What about existing Sponsored Workers? 

If an employee has held continuous permission as a Skilled Worker that was originally granted before 4 April 2024, and apply to extend their permission or to change employers, they will be partially protected from the increased salary rules under transitional provisions.

Under the transitional provisions for existing Skilled Workers, the general minimum salary threshold will be the higher of £29,000 (up from £26,200) or the ‘going rate’ for the role, which will be based on the 25th percentile of earnings. Generally speaking this is a 10-20% increase to the minimum salary threshold.

Some Standard Occupational Classification codes which are eligible for sponsorship under the current rules will no longer be eligible after 4 April 2024, because they are now deemed to be skilled below RQF Level 3, for example nannies and car salesmen. Whilst existing workers can continue to be sponsored in these roles, they will not be able to apply to change employers in these roles. 

For further advice please contact a member of the Ashfords immigration team 

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