The UK Government has recently announced some changes to the Immigration Rules through two statements of changes dated 17 and 19 July 2023. In this insight we detail the key changes that will affect anybody currently on a student visa or businesses employing, or intending to employ, EU national workers.
Changes for students
The statement of changes made two key changes to the student route:
- For courses starting from 1 January 2024, international students will no longer be able to submit applications to sponsor their dependants unless they are in postgraduate research programmes.
- Removal of the right for international students to switch into work visas unless they have completed their studies.
Currently, those on a student visa can apply to bring their dependant partner and children with them to the UK for the duration of their course.
In a bid to significantly reduce net migration into the UK, the Home Secretary announced on 23 May 2023 the intention to remove the ability for the dependants of most international students to accompany them to the UK which was indeed confirmed in July’s statement of changes.
In practical terms, only those studying postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes will be able to bring their dependants with them for courses starting on or after 1 January 2024. These changes do not apply to those who are starting a course in 2023, nor does it prevent dependants who are already in the UK from extending their leave.
The Immigration Rules previously allowed those who have studied at degree-level or higher to switch into a work visa (typically as a Skilled Worker) at any point during the validity of the student visa. With immediate effect, the UK Government announced that students will no longer be able to switch into a work-related visa route unless they have completed their course of studies.
As a result of this change, one of the following must apply in order to make a successful application to switch to a work visa:
- the student has completed their course; or
- the student is studying a degree level course, or higher, and the Certificate of Sponsorship for their work-category visa must show a start date which is no earlier than their course completion date; or
- the student is studying for a PhD and the Certificate of Sponsorship for their work category visa shows a start date which is no earlier than 24 months after the start of their PhD course.
Changes to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) allows EU, EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members, who were living in the UK prior to Brexit and the associated transitional period to apply for and obtain UK immigration status.
The EUSS was also extended to the family members of certain British nationals returning to the UK from the EEA or Switzerland who had been exercising their treaty rights from within the EEA or Switzerland, and primary carers of British nationals (the ‘Surinder Singh’ and ‘Zambrano’ cases). As of 8 August 2023, these routes will be closed to new applicants but will remain an option for those who already hold status, have a pending application or are under appeal.
This means that those individuals affected will need to instead qualify for or make applications under the family routes under the Immigration Rules, which are more onerous and difficult to satisfy.
Automatic extension of leave for those with pre-settled status
The Government has decided that those who have pre-settled status will have it automatically extended by two years before it expires if they have not applied for settled status in that time.
Changes to the Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation List
The Shortage Occupation List has been expanded, for applications submitted on or after 7 August 2023, to include the following occupations:
|Shortage Occupation type
||Shortage Occupation code
|Agriculture and fishing trades not elsewhere classified – only jobs in the fishing industry
|Bricklayers and masons
|Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
|Carpenters and joiners
|Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified
|Fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations not elsewhere classified – only deckhands on large fishing vessels (9 metres and above) where the job requires the worker to have at least 3 years full-time experience in using their skills (which must not have been gained through working illegally).
Migrants applying for a visa in a shortage occupation benefit from lower visa fees and lower salary thresholds.
Changes to the visa national list for visitors
Nationals of countries on the current visa national list must apply for a visa before they travel to the UK. The Government regularly updates this list and, on 19 July 2023, added the following countries:
If businesses employ nationals from any of these countries that need to visit the UK, they will now need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa before they travel. Please note, this change does not apply to those who are already in the UK on a Standard Visitor visa or those who hold confirmed bookings made on or before 3pm on 19 July 2023 where they are due to arrive in the UK by no later than 16 August 2023.
Many of the changes announced in July’s statements of changes demonstrate a clear commitment from the Government to reduce migration to the UK while striking a balance between the need to reduce the net migration figure and remaining competitive in the global market. Something which is key for attracting the brightest and the best talent from overseas.
While the statements of changes affirm the Government’s approach in targeting and maintaining highly skilled and educated migration into the UK, it remains to be seen whether or not there will be more changes in the near future to further tackle the flow of migration into the UK. For now, businesses can rest assured that for the foreseeable future, there are still many visa options available to allow them to secure talent from overseas.