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Recent immigration law changes: what do they mean for French business?


Many changes came into effect on 4 April 2024 in the Skilled worker category; with the most notable being the substantial rise in the minimum salary threshold payable to sponsored Skilled workers. 

Shortage Occupation List replaced 

Moreover, until now, to meet labour shortages the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) provided an opportunity for the Government to cater for the needs of businesses. Its successor the Immigration Salary List (ISL) appears to be a distant cousin twice removed from the SOL. More than half the job roles that were on the SOL have now disappeared leaving only 21 roles. 

Employers may encounter challenges in meeting the thresholds of a reduced Immigration Salary List (ISL), potentially affecting their ability to fulfil recruitment demands for lower-skilled positions with foreign workers. 

“The Brexit Effect”, combined with these changes and other ongoing challenges in the current economic environment, will be testing for smaller employers who depend on international talent. 

Skilled worker sponsorship and the general salary thresholds 

The considerable increase in the minimum salary threshold payable to sponsored Skilled workers from £26,200 to £38,700 since 4 April 2024 represents by far the most significant change to the sponsorship regime. The “general threshold” is the minimum salary which applies regardless of the applicant’s occupation.  

The new rules might be regarded as creating two sets of general minimum thresholds, a “standard” one based on the 50th percentile and a “lower” one based on the 25th percentile. The new minimum salary thresholds may be £38,700, £34,830, £30,960, £29,000, £26,100 or £23,200 depending on the tradeable points option applicable to the sponsored worker’s job role. Those minimum thresholds which are lower, set at £29,000 and below, relate to either those who are already on SW visas (thus subject to transitional provisions) or for certain Education or Health and Care ASHE salary roles.  

The Immigration Rules have thus become more complex, going against the efforts made a few years ago to simplify them. 

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) also pointed out in the Rapid review of the ISL in February 2024 that: “The new general threshold in effect will mean that the SW route becomes unavailable for many occupations.”  

Minimum salary thresholds in other routes 

Whilst there have been some increases in minimum salaries payable in other associated routes they are not as significant as under-Skilled workers. For instance, for Senior or Specialist workers (intra-company transferees’) the general threshold under the Global Mobility Route has increased from £45,800 pa to £ 48,500 pa.  For Graduate Trainees it is up from £24,220 pa to £25,410 pa and in Scale Up it has gone up from £34,600 pa to £363,00 pa.  

Occupation-specific thresholds (the “going rate”) 

The new “going rates” payable are also notably higher being now set at the median for salaries (as opposed to the 25th percentile before 4 April 2024). Skilled workers must be paid the higher of this “occupation-specific threshold” for the role (pro-rated as necessary), or the relevant “general” threshold, subject to any permitted reductions. 

For instance, in terms of going rates, under the previous rules, an IT Director who was payable £47,900pa would now have to be paid £80,000pa and a Business Development Manager would now have to be paid £52,000pa instead of the earlier figure of £35,100pa. Many small businesses may find themselves excluded from filling such roles with a sponsored migrant worker due to these new requirements.  

Settlement of skilled workers 

At the time of the brief to MAC in January 2024, the Home Secretary stated “…Those already in the Skilled Worker route before the Immigration Rules changes should be exempt from the new median salary levels when they change sponsor, extend, or settle.”  

In the new rules, however, there seems to be some ambiguity for those already on the Skilled worker route, suggesting a possible drafting error and further clarification is awaited. The standard requirement appears to be for the salary on settlement to be at a minimum threshold applicable or at least equal to the going rate for the job (whichever is higher). Again, a complex set of rules appears to dictate which exemptions apply on settlement. 

Other changes noteworthy for employers 

In addition to the changes coming into effect on 4 April 2024, business owners will particularly feel the impact of the increased Immigration Health Surcharge, which rose to £1035 pa on February 6, 2024.  

Furthermore, the substantial increase in Civil Penalties on February 13, 2024, from a maximum of £20,000 to £60,000 per illegal worker, will be noteworthy. Even minor administrative oversights by the HR team could have severe consequences, potentially affecting the stability of SMEs due to lapses in sponsor compliance.  

Frontloading efforts at the beginning of the employment relationship and ongoing training for HR or other staff who are responsible for maintaining a company’s sponsor licence is thus very important. 

Since March 11, 2024, dependents of care workers are no longer eligible to join their partners or parents, which could pose challenges for migrants who provide care for the vulnerable in the UK.  

Where will it leave French-owned UK businesses or those French companies wishing to expand to the UK? 

The combined effect of the changes means that smaller businesses may face challenges in recruiting from overseas. Whilst there may well be other visa options to enable recruitment in individual cases, by far the most common method, has been via sponsorship. It is likely to continue to be so despite these changes. 

Employers will need to think outside the box and some may therefore wish to examine whether the migrant could be recruited under a different immigration category or recruit and support those who already hold an immigration status which enables them to work in the UK. However, if the Government aims to promote local recruitment through training and other incentives, there might be a prolonged wait, potentially delaying expansion plans for some businesses.  

Those businesses who have the wherewithal to expand to the UK using routes such as Expansion Worker under Global Business Mobility may wish to consider forming helpful local links to drive the UK entity forward unless they can offer an overseas recruited Chief Executive or Chairman the going rate of £84,100 pa. There are some immigration categories such as the very flexible Global Talent visa, dependent spouses of other migrant categories and some of the Global Business Mobility routes that may offer alternatives to Skilled Workers.  

"Given the new level of salary thresholds [£30960 for those on ISL], we expect that the SW route use will be predominantly for graduate-level occupations as the levels of pay may be out of reach for many RQF 3-5 occupations, except for pay scale occupations and the social care sector which have exemptions” MAC had noted. 

The wheel may come full circle in due course and U-turns are not unheard of in immigration policy, but this may not happen until after the election year. 

Businesses and individual workers can expect the changes to affect them if immigration status is relevant and important.  

As the changes are so numerous and frequent it would be sensible to seek detailed and specialist advice if any of the points above appear relevant.  

Author: Nilmini Roelens, Roelens Solicitors, Oxford 

Roelens Solicitors, founded by Nilmini Roelens, is a law firm specialising in Business Immigration.

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