Wood stick with small white flags on yellow and blue background showing past and future

The most recent Statement of Changes HC 1496, published 17 July 2023, sees yet more important changes being introduced to the UK Immigration Rules.

As stated in the explanatory memorandum to this Statement, the “changes being made primarily concern changes to the EU Settlement Scheme, extension of the Ukraine Extension Scheme, changes to the Student route…and changes to the Skilled Worker route.” The changes also include updates to the Shortage Occupation List following the recent Migration Advisory Committee review. So what is set to change and when?

Student route changes (dependants and switching)

Possibly the most significant changes to be announced yesterday were the Rules surrounding international students. In particular:

  • Removing the right for international students to bring dependants to the UK unless they are on postgraduate courses currently designated as research programmes; and
  • Removing the ability for international students to switch out of this route into work routes before their studies have been completed.

These changes were previously announced in a Statement to Parliament in May 2023 with an anticipated “go live” date later this year. Unexpectedly, the change surrounding switching routes came into effect immediately from yesterday at 15:00, departing from the usual convention where changes to the Rules come into force no earlier than 21 days after being laid out in Parliament. However, it has been made clear that “these changes preserve the ability for dependants already in the UK to extend their stay and for international students on taught postgraduate courses beginning before 1 January 2024 to bring dependants.”

Further, students on courses at degree level and above will be able to apply for their Skilled Worker visa before they have completed their course with a sponsor who has a track record of compliance, provided that their employment start date is after their completion date. Similarly, those studying towards PhD programmes will be able to switch into that route after at least 24 months of study.

Changes to the Skilled Worker route

Following recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) the Shortage Occupation List is being expanded to include the following roles: Bricklayers and masons, Roofers, roof tilers and slaters, Carpenters and Joiners, as well as Plasterers (which now includes dryliners) from 7 August 2023. In addition, following the implementation of Section 43 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, various roles in the fishing industry have also been added to the Shortage Occupation List under Codes 5119 and 9119.

As we have covered previously, the Shortage Occupation List offers lower salary requirements and lower visa application fees for jobs on the relevant list, meaning that it is more cost effective and feasible for organisations of all kinds to fill gaps in their workforce. These changes will be welcome news for those who work in the construction and fishing industries who have been struggling for some time to recruit skilled workers. Employers wishing to take advantage of these changes will need to ensure that they are approved by the Home Office to sponsor migrant workers. This means obtaining a skilled worker sponsor licence if you do not already have one in place.

Lastly, the changes to Appendix Skilled Worker will implement what is essentially a ‘genuine intention’ requirement to all skilled worker applications. This will require the Home Office to be satisfied that the applicant must genuinely intend to undertake their sponsored job and not intend to work in breach of their conditions. It is unclear what will be required for applicants to ‘show’ that this requirement is met in practice.

Changes to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

Within this Statement of Changes, we have also seen a number of amendments to the EUSS. From September 2023 those with pre-settled status under the EUSS will automatically have their status extended by 2 years before it expires, if they have not obtained settled status. The intention is that this process will be automated by the Home Office and reflected in the person’s digital status, with the intention of ensuring that nobody loses their immigration status if they do not apply to switch from pre-settled to settled status.

The Home Office have also confirmed that it “intends to take steps to automatically convert as many eligible pre-settled status holders as possible to settled status once they are eligible for it, without them needing to make an application. During 2024, automated checks of pre-settled status will establish their ongoing continuous residence in the UK. Safeguards will be in place to ensure that settled status is not wrongly granted.” This will be welcome news for many people and will hopefully result in some of the delays that we have been seeing in recent times being improved.

Whilst this appears to be a positive change to the Rules, there are several others which are less than positive. Regrettably, the Surinder Singh (family members of British Citizens who have exercised Treaty Rights in the EU in the past) and Zambrano (primary carers of British children) routes will be closed from 8 August 2023 for new applications. This only provides a very short window for those who would be eligible on these routes to submit their applications. The Memorandum does make clear that “those granted an EUSS family permit as such a family member (including on appeal), following an application made by 8 August 2023, will still be able to come to the UK.”

It will also now be the case that having reasonable grounds for the delay in submitting an application to the EUSS will be a validity rather than an eligibility requirement.

If you are seeking advice or have any questions in relation to this article, please contact our Immigration team.