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Immigration Updates from the United Kingdom

Submitted by Firm:
August Debouzy
Firm Contacts:
Fabienne Haas, Laure Hosni, Philippe Durand
Article Type:
Legal Article

4 Simple Tips About Immigration Changes in the United Kingdom

  1. Stay Informed About Fee Increases: Keep a close eye on the escalating costs associated with UK visas and services, including the substantial rise in the Immigration Health Surcharge and visa application fees. Plan your applications accordingly to manage expenses effectively.
  2. Embrace Digital Transformation: Familiarize yourself with the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system and prepare for the digital shift as the UK moves towards e-visas. Ensure your travel plans accommodate the additional administrative steps and potential processing times.
  3. Understand Policy Reforms and Trade Agreements: Monitor the evolving business visitor regime and the potential expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme, especially in light of ongoing trade negotiations. These changes could open new avenues for mobility and employment, so staying updated will be crucial.
  4. Prepare for the Government's Five-Point Immigration Plan: Brace for the significant reforms set to reshape the UK's immigration landscape in 2024, including the rise in the minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visas and restrictions on bringing dependents. Assess how these changes might impact your recruitment strategies or personal immigration plans.

Immigration Updates from the United Kingdom

Today, we're delving into a topic that's crucial and current: Immigration Updates from the United Kingdom. We're spanning the globe to bring you the most critical updates from ELA members in each region. Joining us are Katie Good and Moji Oyediran, associate and senior associate at Travers Smith in London. Their insights into the recent and upcoming changes in UK immigration laws post-Brexit are invaluable, and we're thrilled to have them share their expertise with us.

The Brexit Impact on Immigration

Moji Oyediran takes the lead in our discussion today, focusing on a subject that's been at the forefront of UK politics and society: immigration, particularly in the context of the UK's departure from the EU, commonly known as Brexit. The transition has been marked by significant legislative shifts, with a series of changes that took effect throughout the year and more on the horizon as we venture into the new year.

Navigating the Latest Immigration Fee Increases and Regulations in the UK

There has been a substantial increase in immigration fees in the UK, a change that's set to impact many applicants. As Moji Oyediran explains, October 2023 marked a significant escalation in visa application fees for a range of work-related visas, surging by approximately 15%. For instance, the cost for a five-year skilled worker visa, which is vital for many individuals working under a sponsorship visa, has escalated from £1,235 to £1,420.

The hike doesn't stop there. The super priority service, which expedites the decision-making process in applications, has seen a staggering 25% increase. This service, crucial for timely decisions, has jumped from £800 to £1,000 for a five-working-day decision. These increases signify a substantial financial shift for applicants and employers alike, underscoring the need for strategic planning and preparation in the face of these new costs.

Anticipated Hikes in Immigration Health Surcharge and Civil Penalties

The financial implications don't end with application fees. Moji sheds light on another significant impending change: the hike in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fees, set to take effect from January 16th, 2024. This surcharge, mandatory for most visa applicants, contributes to the UK's National Health Service and is currently pegged at £624 per person per year.

However, brace for a substantial increase, as this fee is set to soar to £1,035 per person per year. This hike represents a considerable additional expense for visa applicants, prompting some employers to expedite visa applications to leverage the current lower fee levels.

Moreover, the government plans to intensify the financial repercussions for employers who breach immigration laws. Fines for employing individuals without proper work permission are set to triple.

Currently, a first-time offense incurs a £15,000 fine, but this will leap to an eye-watering £45,000. For repeat offenders, the fine will surge from £20,000 to a staggering £60,000 per illegal worker. These significant increases underscore the importance of compliance and the potentially hefty costs of oversights or violations.

The Importance of Compliance Checks and Audits

Given these substantial financial stakes, now is a critical moment for employers to scrutinize their compliance processes rigorously. The intricate and frequently changing requirements for prescribed right-to-work checks can be a minefield for the unprepared. In light of the tripling of potential fines, a thorough review of processes and records is more than just advisable—it's imperative. Many businesses are wisely seeking professional help to conduct health checks, review policies, and train staff on compliance procedures, ensuring that their operations are as robust and compliant as possible.

Introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) System

Transitioning to another significant development, Katie Good introduces the newly implemented Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system in the UK. This system, akin to the ESTA in the US, marks a pivotal shift in the visa application process for visitors. Its phased rollout began with Qatari nationals and will gradually expand to encompass nationals from various countries, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, before eventually covering all non-British and Irish nationals.

The ETA, valid for two years once issued, signifies a streamlined approach to managing entry into the UK for tourism or business purposes. The initial focus on Middle Eastern countries in the early phases of the rollout is a strategic move, setting the stage for a broader implementation that will eventually include e-passport holders and nationals from countries like the US, Canada, and Australia.

Understanding ETA, ETIAS, and E-Visas

Understanding ETA, ETIAS, and E-Visas

As we delve deeper into the UK's immigration landscape, the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) emerges as a pivotal development. Katie Good illuminates the implications of this new pre-approval process, which marks a departure from the current visa-free entry system for many individuals. The ETA system, designed to streamline entry into the UK, could introduce additional administrative steps and potentially affect the fluidity of travel, especially for business visitors and those used to spontaneous trips.

The success of the ETA, much like the ESTA in the US, hinges on the efficiency and reliability of the system in processing applications swiftly. Delays or technical issues could pose significant challenges, particularly for those accustomed to the convenience and speed of visa-free travel. The introduction of the ETA is a clear sign of the increasing trend toward digital travel authorizations, a movement that's gaining momentum globally.

Digital Travel Authorizations

The shift towards digital systems is not confined to the UK. The European Union is also on the cusp of launching its own version, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), set for implementation in 2025. This system, much like the UK's ETA and the US's ESTA, will mandate pre-travel authorization for non-EU nationals who currently don't need a visa for short visits.

This global trend towards digital travel authorizations signifies a major shift in how countries manage and monitor cross-border movement. The ETA, ETIAS, and similar systems represent a new era of travel, where digital processes are central, and travelers must navigate these additional administrative layers. For frequent travelers, particularly those traversing between the UK and EU or between North America and Europe, understanding and adapting to these systems will be crucial.

The Transition to E-Visas in the UK

Turning our attention back to the UK, Moji Oyediran highlights another significant digital transformation: the transition to e-visas. This shift, primarily driven by post-Brexit reforms, represents the UK's ambition to digitize the immigration system fully. The introduction of the EU Settlement Scheme in 2019 was a watershed moment in this digital journey, setting the stage for a future where physical visa documents are phased out in favor of digital records.

The e-visa, already in use for certain nationalities and applications, offers a glimpse into the future of UK immigration. With an online account, individuals can access, manage, and share their immigration status digitally, streamlining interactions with employers, landlords, and other entities. However, this transition also underscores the need for awareness and adaptation.

As biometric residence permit cards are phased out, understanding the nuances of the e-visa system, its validity, and its implications becomes paramount for all visa holders in the UK.

Expansion of the Business Visitor Regime

As we look towards the future of UK immigration, Katie Good brings our attention to the government's Autumn Statement and its hidden proposals for the business visitor regime. In 2024, we can expect an expansion of this regime with wider coverage for the legal services sector and simplified arrangements for paid engagements in the UK.

The government also plans to broaden and clarify the activities that can be undertaken by employees visiting their UK office from overseas. These changes, though yet to be dated, are poised to reshape the landscape for business visitors and warrant close monitoring.

Trade Negotiations and Their Impact on Immigration

Trade negotiations are proving to be a significant driver of change in UK immigration policies. As Katie points out, the usability scheme, a reciprocal visa arrangement, has been extended due to trade agreements, offering preferential provisions to nationals from countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

India's recent addition to this scheme and the government's intention to expand it further in 2024 highlight the dynamic nature of immigration policies and their interconnection with international trade. These developments are crucial for businesses and individuals alike, as they can open new opportunities for mobility and collaboration.

The UK Government's Five-Point Immigration Plan for 2024

Moji Oyediran sheds light on the UK government's announcement of a comprehensive five-point plan to reform the UK's immigration system, set to take effect from spring 2024. This plan includes:

  1. Increase in Minimum Salary Threshold for Skilled Worker Visas: The threshold is set to rise by nearly 50%, a change that could have profound implications for businesses and workers alike.
  2. Reform of the Shortage Occupation List: The list will be reformed and significantly reduced, impacting the salary discounts currently in place.
  3. Review and Potential Reform of the Graduate Visa Route: This could affect the prospects of international students planning to work in the UK post-graduation.
  4. Increase in Income Requirement for Bringing Dependents to the UK: This substantial increase is likely to affect lower-income British citizens and those settled in the UK.
  5. Restrictions on Bringing Dependents for Health and Care Visa Holders: This change could impact the healthcare sector, particularly concerning the recruitment of international talent.

These proposed changes reflect the government's intent to manage net migration more strictly and respond to the recent surge in migration numbers. However, they also pose significant challenges for employers, particularly in sectors that rely heavily on international talent.

Reflecting on the Changes in UK Immigration

Changes in UK Immigration

From the significant increases in immigration fees to the introduction of new digital tools like the ETA, ETIAS, and e-visas, we've traversed a landscape that's rapidly evolving. The impending constraints and challenges posed by the UK government's five-point immigration plan further underscore the dynamic nature of immigration policies and their profound impact on individuals and businesses alike.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to Katie Good and Moji Oyediran for their invaluable contributions and insights. Their expertise has illuminated the complexities and nuances of the UK's immigration changes, offering clarity and direction in a time of significant transition.

To our listeners, we appreciate your engagement and curiosity.

For those looking to delve deeper or seeking personalized advice, we encourage you to connect with Katie and Moji by clicking on their bios in the description of this podcast. The Employment Law Alliance (ELA) is here to support you, offering access to the world's largest network of labor and employment lawyers from the best law firms around the globe.

We invite you to explore the wealth of resources available on the ELA website, including the option to connect with lawyers worldwide, attend informative webinars, download insightful whitepapers, and access the comprehensive content in our online library. The ELA's exclusive Global Employer Handbook is another resource at your disposal, offering a deep dive into global employment matters.