NewsUK Triples Penalties for Illegal Working as Part of Immigration Crackdown 2024

UK Triples Penalties for Illegal Working as Part of Immigration Crackdown 2024

The UK immigration system is undergoing significant reforms in 2024 as the government aims to reduce net migration and tackle illegal working.

From higher salary thresholds for skilled workers to new restrictions on dependents, here’s a comprehensive look at the key changes and how they may impact individuals, families and businesses.

Five-Point Plan to Cut Net Migration

In December 2023, Home Secretary James Cleverly unveiled an ambitious five-point plan to bring down net migration by an estimated 300,000 people per year. The major components of this plan, most of which will be implemented in spring 2024, are:

  1. Reforms to the Health and Care Worker Visa, preventing care workers from bringing dependents to the UK
  2. Increasing the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas from £26,200 to £38,700
  3. Replacing the Shortage Occupation List with a new Immigration Salary List that removes the 20% discount on going rates
  4. More than doubling the minimum income requirement for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700
  5. Reviewing the Graduate visa route to ensure it aligns with the UK’s interests

These changes sit alongside other recently announced measures such as preventing most international students from bringing dependents from January 2024 onwards.

Skilled Worker Visa Overhaul

UK Triples Penalties for Illegal Working as Part of Immigration Crackdown 2024

The centerpiece of the government’s immigration reforms is a near 50% increase in the general salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas to £38,700. This will come into effect on 4 April 2024, although some exemptions apply, such as for shortage occupations and those on national pay scales like healthcare and education workers.

Existing Skilled Worker visa holders will not immediately be subject to the new threshold when extending their stay or applying for settlement. However, the Home Office expects their pay to progress in line with resident workers for future applications. Alongside the salary changes, the current Shortage Occupation List will be replaced by a new Immigration Salary List on 14 March 2024. This removes the 20% discount on going rates that shortage occupations currently benefit from. The Migration Advisory Committee will advise on which roles should be included on the new list, with the number of eligible occupations expected to be reduced.

Restrictions on Dependents

Care workers and senior care workers applying for Health and Care Worker visas from 11 March 2024 onwards will no longer be able to bring dependents with them to the UK. This change will not affect those already on this route before this date, who can still have their dependents join them.Most international students will also face new restrictions on dependents from January 2024. Only those on postgraduate courses designated as research degrees or confirmed by the government as eligible will be able to bring partners and children.

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Higher Income Requirement for Family Visas

British citizens or settled persons wanting to sponsor a partner visa will need to earn at least £29,000 per year from 11 April 2024 – a significant increase from the current £18,600 minimum income requirement.The government initially announced the partner visa threshold would rise to £38,700 straightaway.

However, after concerns about family separations, it revised this to a staggered approach – £29,000 from April 2024, then £34,500, reaching £38,700 in early 2025. The additional income requirement for dependent children is also being removed.

Crackdown on Illegal Working

Penalties for employing someone without the legal right to work in the UK are set to triple from 13 February 2024. Fines will increase from £15,000 to £45,000 for a first breach and from £20,000 to £60,000 for repeat offences. With this crackdown, it’s crucial that employers conduct compliant right to work checks and keep sponsor licences up to date.

The good news is that sponsor licence renewals are being abolished from 6 April 2024, with expiry dates automatically extended by 10 years

Visitor Visa Changes

As of 31 January 2024, the permitted activities for visitors to the UK have been expanded. Key changes include:

  • Allowing remote working, such as checking emails or taking calls, as long as this isn’t the primary purpose of the visit
  • Permitting academics, scientists and researchers to conduct research relating to their overseas employment
  • Extending the list of Permitted Paid Engagements that visitors can be paid for, such as speaking at conferences

These amendments aim to make business travel to the UK more flexible and reflective of modern working practices. However, robust visitor visa rules still apply and should be carefully reviewed to avoid breaching conditions.

Impact on Businesses and Individuals

The scale and pace of changes to the UK immigration system in 2024 present both challenges and opportunities for employers and applicants alike.For businesses, the higher salary thresholds for Skilled Worker visas may make it harder to recruit overseas talent, especially in sectors like hospitality and retail. The removal of the shortage occupation discount could also exacerbate skills shortages in key industries.However, the expansion of permitted activities for visitors is a positive step that could reduce the need for expensive work visas in some cases.

The abolition of sponsor licence renewals will also cut red tape for employers. Individuals and families face a mixed picture. The restrictions on dependents for care workers and students may lead to painful separations. The much higher income requirement for partner visas could prevent many British citizens from bringing loved ones to the UK.

On the other hand, simpler visitor visa rules will make it easier for academics, researchers and business travellers to come to the UK. And if the asylum backlog is successfully tackled, those with a genuine need for protection should receive a quicker decision.

Staying Informed

With so many immigration developments happening in quick succession, it’s vital that employers and applicants stay up to date with the latest changes and how they may be impacted.

The government has published factsheets and guidance on the reforms, but the full details are not yet confirmed in all cases. Further information is expected to be released in the coming weeks and months, including a new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules on 14 March 2024

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Businesses should review their recruitment pipelines and budget for the increased immigration costs, such as higher salaries and visa fees. They may also need to update right to work check processes and consider alternative routes where sponsorship is not feasible.

Individuals should carefully check the specific requirements and deadlines for their visa category. Those applying for settlement may benefit from submitting their application before the new thresholds take effect. And British citizens with non-UK partners should explore their options for meeting the higher income requirement.

Seeking professional immigration advice can provide clarity and assurance in navigating this complex and fast-moving landscape. Specialist lawyers can assess individual circumstances, identify potential issues and recommend the best course of action.


2024 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the UK immigration system, with extensive changes designed to reduce net migration while still attracting the “brightest and best” global talent.The government’s five-point plan targets key visa routes like skilled workers, students and family members. Higher salary thresholds, restrictions on dependents and tougher illegal working penalties are among the headline measures.

But there are also positive developments, such as more flexible visitor visa rules and streamlined processes for asylum claims and sponsor licences. The expansion of the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme should also strengthen border security. Businesses and individuals will need to carefully plan for the changes and seek professional guidance where needed. While there may be challenges in the short term, the reforms aim to create a more sustainable and robust immigration system for the UK’s future.

By staying informed and adaptable, employers and applicants can successfully navigate this new landscape and continue to benefit from the UK’s vibrant and diverse society.

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