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Immigration law updates - What to expect in 2024

Immigration law updates - What to expect in 2024

Immigration law is always a dynamic and fast-changing area, but practitioners, individuals and businesses alike have been surprised by the government’s changes to the immigration system including fee increases, an 66% increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge and introducing significant changes to skilled worker and family visa salary requirements.

The current Home Secretary, James Cleverly, announced a plan on 4 December 2023 to slash migration levels and curb abuse of the immigration system with the aim to deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration. In this blog, we discuss the changes planned for the year to come.

An increase in the Skilled Worker salary requirements

From next spring, the UK government will increase the earning threshold for overseas workers by nearly 50% from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700. This is a huge increase and will have a negative impact on business who require overseas talent to develop their business due to domestic labour shortages. Without doubt, the number of Skilled Worker applications will decrease in 2024.

Replacement of the Shortage Occupation List

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) catalogues the skilled worker roles which are currently experiencing a shortage of recruits in the UK. Individuals looking to come to the UK to undertake a role on the SOL benefit from a lower salary threshold, reduced application fees and potentially a relaxation of the skill level requirement. The list is devised by the UK government but draws upon recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a non-governmental body tasked with monitoring migration issues. The UK government will end the 20% going-rate salary discount for shortage occupations and replace the Shortage Occupation List with a new Immigration Salary List. The Migration Advisory Committee will review the new list against the increased salary thresholds in order to reduce the number of occupations on the list.

Businesses have long called for the SOL to be updated and expanded in light of the labour shortages that have afflicted many industries in the last few years. Many feel that the Home Office needs to do more to consider industry views and ensure that business’ needs are supported. The new Immigration Salary List ignores the needs of business and puts “tough talk” on immigration ahead of the UK’s economic growth.

An increase in the family visa salary requirements

A truly shocking part of the UK government’s plan to reduce net migration will negatively impact British and settled people from sponsoring family members. The announcement was initially that the salary needed to bring family members to the UK would jump from £18,600 to £38,700 in Spring 2024. This announcement was made without any reference to people currently on this visa route, but it has since been indicated that transitional arrangements will be made and that the increase to £38,700 will be staggered with an initial increase to £29,000 in Spring 2024 and raising to £38,700 by early 2025.

The Home Office’s Legal Migration Statement 4th December 2023 Estimated Immigration Impacts states, “At the current MIR level of £18,600, 75 to 80% of the UK working population (based on ASHE earnings data) meet the MIR level. At the higher MIR of £29,000, all else being constant, around 50 to 60% of the UK working population could meet the threshold based on earnings alone.”  This change will likely have a disproportionate impact on women as 60% of men earn less than £38,700, with this percentage rising to over 75% for women.

Expanding the hostile environment to target British citizens and settled people in the UK may not be a feasible policy. The current income requirement of £18,600 was upheld as being lawful in the Supreme Court in MM (Lebanon) but it was acknowledged that, “There can be no doubt that the Minimum Income Requirement has caused, and will continue to cause, significant hardship to many thousands of couples who have good reasons for wanting to make their lives together in this country, and to their children.”  Whether this new minimum income requirement would stand up to legal challenge is difficult to say due to the lack of details published by the UK government.

Removal of the Graduate Visa

In pursuing his ambition to reduce immigration to the UK, James Cleverly, has suggested that he may seek to end the ability of foreign students to apply for a two-year work visa once they have successfully completed their studies.

The UK government will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse. The Graduate visa allows international students the chance to gain work experience in the UK and contribute to the UK economy. It is difficult to see how this two-year visa can be “abused”.

The Graduate visa is a useful stepping stone for students that wish to stay in the UK to work but haven’t yet secured a job offer, as there is no need to be sponsored by an organisation or employer. Those who do want to work can do so at any skill level and for any salary. Graduate visa holders can stay in the UK for up to two years, or three if they have completed a PhD. The flexibility of this route is beneficial for employees and employers alike. As there is no skill requirement for the job offered, employers can hire Graduates into entry level roles that would otherwise be excluded from the Skilled Worker route.

Moreover, businesses can hire a Graduate without first incurring the time and expense of applying for a sponsorship licence if they do not already have one. Some businesses may feel this is too significant an investment to embark on when hiring a new employee. For Graduates at the start of their career, they may prefer not to be tied down to a three or five year contract, as they would be under the Skilled Worker route. 
Where a business does wish to continue a Graduate’s employment beyond the expiry of their visa, the employee can switch to the Skilled Worker route from within the UK, so long as the employer obtains a sponsor licence.

Changes to dependent visas for care workers  

James Cleverly has stated that he will remove the ability of overseas care workers to be joined by their family members. This follows the removal of the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on postgraduate research courses. This is estimated to reduce migration by around 120k. This is likely to make the UK a less attractive destination for overseas care workers and with an aging population and a social care workforce crisis there is a real risk that care provision will be gutted.


Digitalisation of the immigration system is proceeding at pace and from 1 January 2025 physical Biometric residence permits (BRPs) will not be required and visa holders will be able to prove their immigration status online, without a BRP. The Home Office promises to update their information on how to prove immigration status in early 2024.

Electronic travel authorisation (ETA)

The Home Office Electronic Travel Authorisation is a pre-check for people travelling to the United Kingdom. This is already in place for nationals of Qatar and from 22 February 2024 will be required for nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. It costs £10 per person and allows unlimited visits to the UK over two years, or until the holder’s passport expires.

Electronic travel authorisation (ETA) will be rolled out to those who do not currently need a visa to visit the UK or who do not hold a UK immigration status, including nationals from Europe and America but the timescales have not been announced.

Global Britain in 2024

2024 looks set to be a challenging year of changes across the board. A General Election is expected later in the year, and it may be that the proposed changes are not implemented but as it stands business and families are struggling to plan ahead due to the lack of clear communication and certainty surrounding the UK government’s plans. The pursuit of reduction of net migration at any costs hurts the UK’s citizens, economy, and reputation as a global player.

At Thorntons, with three specialist immigration lawyers on the team, including a Law Society of Scotland Accredited Immigration Lawyer, we can act quickly on your behalf and apply our experience to help you with all areas of Immigration Law. If you have a query or seek advice, please contact our specialist Immigration team on 03330 430350.

About the authors

Louise Crichton
Louise Crichton

Louise Crichton

Senior Solicitor

Immigration & Visas

Gurjit Pall
Gurjit Pall

Gurjit Pall

Legal Director

Immigration & Visas

For more information, contact Louise Crichton or any member of the Immigration & Visas team on 0141 483 9020.