Increase to visa fees and Immigration Health Surcharge

The Government has announced it will increase the cost of visa fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) as part of a push to raise funds for pay-rises in the public sector. Work and visit visa fees are expected to increase by 15%, all other visa categories, Certificates of Sponsorship, and settlement and citizenship applications are expected to rise by 20%. The IHS will increase by 66% from £624 per year of the visa to £1,035 per year of the visa for adults.

It has not yet been announced when these changes will come into effect, but it can be assumed that they will be introduced sooner rather than later.

Worked example below of how costs are expected to increase.

Application element Current rate for a single worker (3 years) Expected new rate for single worker (3 years) Current rate for a single worker (5 years) Expected new rate for single worker (5 years)
Visa application fee £719 £827 £1,423 £1,637
Certificate of Sponsorship £199 £239 £199 £239
Immigration skills charge £3,000 £3,000 £5,000 £5,000
Immigration health surcharge £1,872 (rate of £624 per year of visa duration) £3,105 (rate of £1035 per year of visa duration) £3,120 (rate of £624 per year of visa duration) £5,175 (rate of £1035 per year of visa duration)
Priority Service (optional) £500 £500 £500 £500
Total Home Office fees £6,290 £7,702 £10,242 £12,546

Employers may want to consider:

  • Review of what visa expenses are supported; for example:
    • Will applicants be expected to cover any costs themselves?
    • Will support for dependent family members be provided?
  • Do you want to provide a loan as an employee benefit to help support visa costs (similar to a season ticket loan)?
  • Do you want to put a clawback arrangement in place with the employee?

Get in touch if you want to discuss this further with our team.

Automatic extensions to those holding pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme

The Home Office has confirmed that from September 2023, people with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme will automatically have their status extended by two years before it expires if they have not obtained settled status. It also intends to take steps during 2024 to automatically convert as many eligible pre-settled status holders as possible to settled status once they are eligible (currently, applicants are required to pro-actively make an application to convert to settled status prior to the expiry of their pre-settled status). The Home Office will contact those who will benefit from these automatic processes.

This is a real boon for status holders who might not have been eligible to apply for settled status and are now going to be in receipt of permission to stay for an additional period of residence in the UK at no cost.

It is recommended that EU settlement status holders ensure that their digital account details are up to date to ensure they receive any relevant correspondence, and their status is duly corrected.

The Home Office has also given notice that the Surinder Singh (for family members of British nationals who have exercised free movement rights in the European Economic Area or Switzerland and are returning to the UK) and Zambrano (for primary carers of a British national) routes will close to new applications from 8 August 2023.

E-gate users at UK airports

From 24 July, the Home Office has changed rules for children using e-gates at passport control. Previously, children under the age of 12 were prevented from using e-gates and would instead have to queue to see Border Officials in person at the desk.

Now, new rules mean that children from age ten and up, of eligible nationalities, can use e-gates which is expected to ease queuing and improve traveller experience at Border Control for all – this is a welcome change in advance of the busy summer holiday period.

Youth Mobility Scheme – New Zealand concessions

On 29 June 2023, the expansion of the UK-New Zealand Youth Mobility Scheme was put into action. The age limit of those eligible for this visa has risen from 30 to 35, and the visa can now be extended in the UK for a further 12 months in addition to the two years granted on entry clearance.

Similar concessions are in the pipeline for Australia (from 31 January 2024) and Canada (sometime in 2024).

This is a positive news story for employers who now have access to a broader talent pool that won't need company visa sponsorship to come to the UK.

Skilled Workers – Permitted absences

Skilled workers are restricted to a maximum period of four weeks of unpaid leave from work as a condition of their visa permission. There are some limited exceptions to this rule, including maternity, paternity, adoption leave and sick leave. A new concession has also been added to recognise jury service as a permitted absence.

Employers should continue to track and monitor sponsored workers to ensure they return to work following their jury service.

Changes to the student visa route

On 17 July 2023, the UK authorities introduced wide-reaching changes to the Student visa rules.

It is no longer possible for those on student visas to switch to sponsored work routes in the UK unless they have completed their course. It is possible to submit applications for students studying at degree level or above before they complete their course, as long as their employment start date is not before the date of completion. Students enrolled in PhD programmes can switch after they have completed two years of study.

Those making visa applications from 1 January 2024 need to be aware that they will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK unless the course is a PhD, other doctoral qualification, or a research-based higher degree.

New jobs in construction added to the Shortage Occupation List

The UK Government has added a number of construction jobs to the Skilled Worker visa route that will now be eligible for visa sponsorship. The roles have also been added to the UK's Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The SOL is designed to attract workers to the UK to fill vacancies in areas where demand exceeds the availability of workers. The main benefit for employers of sponsoring a migrant in a job listed on the SOL is that the minimum salary thresholds and application fees are lower than they are on jobs that can otherwise be sponsored under the Skilled Worker route.

The following occupations have been added to the SOL.

  • Bricklayers and masons – all jobs (Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code 5312);
  • Roofers, roof tillers and slaters – all jobs (Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code 5313);
  • Carpenters and joiners – all jobs (Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code 5315);
  • Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified – all jobs (Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code 5319)
  • Plasters and dryliners – all jobs (Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code 5321)

Home Office adds new countries to the visa nationals list

On 19 June 2023 the Home Office added the following nationalities to the list of travellers who are required to apply for visitor visas before coming to the UK:

  • nationals or citizens of Dominica;
  • nationals or citizens of Honduras;
  • nationals or citizens of Namibia;
  • nationals or citizens of Timor-Leste; and
  • nationals or citizens of Vanuatu.

Anyone from the above countries who hold confirmed bookings to the UK made on or before 3pm British Summer Time on 19 July 2023, and where the arrival in the UK is no later than 16 August 2023, will be permitted to enter under the old visitor rules and is not required to apply for a visa before travelling.

Priority service

On 21 June 2023, the Home Office changed the method of applying for priority processing of sponsor licence applications. This step has now been incorporated into the online application system, meaning that both the application and the payment for the priority service can be carried out simultaneously without the need to send a separate email to the Home Office.

Although this update should in theory have made the process more streamlined and quicker, in practice it currently falls somewhat short of its aim. There is often no option to actually pay for the priority service – slots remain limited and are released only at 9am daily. It is hoped that these are teething problems that will eventually be rectified.

Sponsorship Management System (SMS) changes – Level 1 users

It is now a mandatory requirement for Level 1 users of the SMS to add their National Insurance number into the system. The update will be reflected on the SMS immediately once the information has been entered and saved.

This requirement applies to new Level 1 users, as well as existing Level 1 users, so existing users will need to log into the SMS to add this information. It is expected that the requirement will soon be extended to Authorising Officers and Key Contacts as well.

Changes to UKVCAS systems and processes

Changes to the UKVCAS document uploading system are due to take effect on 27 July 2023. It will be a phased implementation so that applications started prior to the new system coming into effect will remain on the old version, while those started on or after 27 July will benefit from the new version. The new version will also have a bulk upload feature allowing up to 20 files to be uploaded at once.

In addition to these changes, UKVCAS is amending its appointment booking system: free Saturday appointments will no longer be available anywhere in the UK. These slots will be redistributed throughout the working week (Monday to Friday). This is to equalise the service offering throughout the UK and also create consistency with overseas appointment availability.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.