Tripling of fines for those supporting illegal migrants

The Home Office has announced significant increases to illegal working penalties, which will take effect from 22 January 2024. The civil penalty for employers, who employ an individual without the appropriate immigration permission in the UK, will increase as follows:

  • from a maximum of £15,000 per illegal worker to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first breach; and
  • from a maximum of £20,000 per illegal worker to £60,000 per illegal worker for repeat breaches.

The Home Office has published a draft code of practice on preventing illegal working which, once approved by Parliament, will apply to all right to work checks from 22 January 2024. This includes where a follow-up check is required to maintain a statutory excuse, even if the initial check was undertaken using a previous version of the code which was current at the time.

The draft code sets out how employers can establish a statutory excuse for right to work checks and how civil penalties will be administered and calculated. Reductions may be applied if there are mitigating factors or if it is a first penalty and payment is made in full within 21 days.

Proposed increases to immigration health surcharge laid before Parliament

The draft Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2023 has been laid before Parliament. The Order, if adopted by both Houses of Parliament, will increase the immigration health surcharge (IHS) for most applications from £624 to £1,035 per person per year. Children (under the age of 18 at the time of application), students, dependents of students and Youth Mobility Scheme applicants will also see the IHS for their applications increase from £470 to £776 per person per year.

If made, the Order will come into force on the later of 16 January 2024 or 21 days after being made.

MAC recommends drastic changes to the shortage occupation list

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its review of the shortage occupation list (SOL), which recommends its abolition or heavy reform. Recommendations include:

  • Removing occupations with a going rate above the general minimum salary threshold of £26,200 from the SOL.
  • Removing the 80% SOL going rate discount.
  • Changing the name of the SOL to the “Immigration Salary Discount List”.
  • Expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme to other countries to fill shortages in the labour market.
  • Uprating minimum salary thresholds in April 2024 to fully adopt the recommendations in the ONS Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) 2020.
  • Updating the Creative Worker (CW) route.

The MAC is concerned that the effect of the SOL is to undercut the resident labour force, which can lead to exploitation of the migrant workforce. It suggests that the Government should instead focus on improving training, working conditions and job progression to fill skills shortages.

Home Offices publishes caseworker guidance on ETA applications

The Home Office has published new guidance on electronic travel authorisation (ETA) applications for caseworkers. Most applicants’ decisions will be fully automated and will receive a grant within three days of submitting their application. The guidance is designed to assist decision makers where an ETA applicant’s identity cannot be properly established or where there is adverse information regarding the applicant’s suitability for an ETA, as these elements cannot be automated.

An ETA is a digital permission to travel, which will be required by all non-visa nationals (those who do not require a visa to visit the UK) coming to the UK for up to six months as a visitor, including transit visitors and some creative workers.

The ETA scheme is now open for Qatari nationals travelling to the UK (from 15 November 2023). Visitors from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will need an ETA from 22 February 2024 (they can apply from 1 February 2024). More countries will then be added to the scheme, and by the end of 2024 the scheme will be a requirement for all non-visa nationals, including those visiting from Europe.

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Published: 23rd November 2023
Area: Employment

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