Explained: Changes to the Immigration Rules

On 20 July 2023, the Home Office published a statement of changes in the UK’s immigration rules. The changes cover a number of policy areas and impact a wide array of applicants. In this post I will explain and analyse the changes and explain the potential impact of them on the UK and people thinking of entering the UK.

Student Route

The UK government has announced two major changes to the student visa route. The first is that people with student visas will not be able to bring dependent family members with them to the UK. The only exemption to this will be for government-sponsored students and those studying for a doctorate, a PhD and others on postgraduate courses that are designated as research programs. This rule change comes into effect on 1 January 2024, meaning that people starting university in the UK in autumn 2023 will still be able to bring their dependent family members, while those already in the UK will still be able to extend their visa if they were already eligible to.

The other change is that people on student visas will not be able to switch to work visas before their studies have been completed. This change came into force straightaway. Previously, people with student visas were able to apply to switch to the Skilled Worker visa (or any other kind of working visa) before they had finished their university course. Students will still be able to apply before their degree is finished. However, they cannot start working before they finish their studies and can only switch to a work visa if their Certificate of Sponsorship shows a start date after the end of the university course.

This makes it harder for people on student visas to switch to a work visa while still in the UK without having to leave and apply for fresh entry clearance. This will potentially be very inconvenient for and disruptive to many students, as they will be required to leave the UK if they do not meet the criteria described above. Once again, there is an exemption for PhD students, who can apply for a job that starts before they complete their course, as long as it is at least 24 months after it began.

EU Settlement Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) has also undergone significant changes. This is relevant to people from EU countries, EEA countries and Switzerland, as well as their dependent family members, living in the UK with Settled Status and Pre-Settled Status.

As of 8 August 2023, new applications under the Surinder Singh route and the Zambrano route will no longer be permitted. The Surinder Singh route allowed people who were not citizens of an EU country to get Settled Status or Pre-Settled Status under the EUSS if they had a partner who was a British citizen living outside the UK in an EU country before Brexit, while the Zambrano route did the same for non-EU primary carers of British citizen children. This will not apply retroactively so people who have a pending application or appeal will not be affected. People who would previously have qualified under these routes will now have to submit an application under the more onerous Appendix FM rules.

The other change to the EUSS is that people with Pre-Settled Status will have their leave automatically extended by a further two years if it is about to expire and they have not made an application. They will still need to make an application if they wish to upgrade to Settled Status, but the Home Office has indicated that they intend to automatically switch people from Pre-Settled Status to Settled Status once they are eligible for it in the near future.

Skilled Worker

The principal change to the Skilled Worker visa is that a number of new jobs will be added to the shortage occupation list, which means that potential applicants will have to pay lower visa fees and employers will have a lower salary threshold than for jobs not on the list. These jobs are primarily in the construction industry and the fishing industry. The new jobs are:

  • 5119 Agriculture and fishing trades not elsewhere classified – only jobs in the fishing industry
  • 5312 Bricklayers and masons – all jobs
  • 5313 Roofers, roof tilers and slaters – all jobs
  • 5315 Carpenters and joiners – all jobs
  • 5319 Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified – all jobs
  • 5321 Plasterers – all jobs
  • 9119 Fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations not elsewhere classified – only deckhands on large fishing vessels (nine metres and above) where the job requires the worker to have at least three years’ full-time experience in using their skills. This experience must not have been gained through working illegally.

Furthermore, holders of worker visas sponsored for GP speciality training will have the expiry of their visa set for four months after the end of their Certificate of Sponsorship, rather than the previous period of fourteen days, during which period they can do additional work and have more time to apply for an extension of their visa. There will also be further requirements for applicants to prove that they are genuine.

Immigration Health Surcharge and Visa Fees Increase

The government announced a number of increases to the fees migrants to the UK will need to pay. While the full range of increases will be announced in due course, the headline was the increase of the Immigration Health Surcharge, which will go from £624 to £1,035 per year (the student and under rate will increase from £470 to £776).

Additionally, there will be an increase of 15% in the fees for visit and work visa applications, and at least a 20% rise in fees for student visas, certificates of sponsorship, settlement, citizenship, and all other visa applications.

Other changes include the fees for priority services being standardised so that applications from both within and outside the UK will pay the same rate. The £19.20 fee for biometric enrolment is being removed, as are the fees for amending details on physical evidence and for BRP replacements.

 While there was no announcement of changes to the Immigration Skills Charge that employers pay when they issue a Certificate of Sponsorship, it is possible this will be announced at a later date.

Expanded Visa National List

The UK government also added five more countries to the visa national list. This means that people from those countries wishing to travel to the UK for visits of six months or less will need to apply for a visitor visa. Before the announcement, people from all five countries had been able to enter the UK without requiring prior approval for short visits. These five countries are Dominica, Honduras, Namibia, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.

These countries have been added to the list for different reasons. Honduras and Namibia have been added because of a large increase in people from those countries claiming asylum in the UK. The golden visa schemes offered by the governments of Dominica and Vanuatu were cited as the reason for their addition to the list, due to the risks that holders of those visas may be criminals or other people that may pose a risk to the UK. As for Timor-Leste (AKA East Timor), the UK government claimed that there had been an increase of people entering the UK to work illegally or make fraudulent applications under the EU Settlement Scheme from there.

The inclusion of those countries to the list will mean not only that their citizens will now have to pay the visa application fees, but that they will have to submit a full application and supporting documents that could very well be refused.

Expanded Visa National List

The inclusion of those countries to the list will mean not only that their citizens will now have to pay the visa application fees, but that they will have to submit a full application and supporting documents that could very well be refused.

Ukraine Extension Scheme

The good news for Ukrainian nationals in the UK is that the Ukraine Extension Scheme will stay open for new applicants until 16 May 2024, as it had been scheduled to close on 16 November 2023. The scheme allows Ukrainian nationals and their families to stay in the UK for three years beyond their initial permission to stay. Before the change, Ukrainian nationals were eligible for the scheme if they had been granted leave to enter or remain at any point between 18 March 2022 and 16 May 2023. Now, that period has been extended to 16 November 2023.

Implications of Changes

The changes to the student route regarding dependents are part of an explicit move by the UK government to reduce net migration to the UK. While the UK government is still trying to push for more students from around the world to choose the UK as their destination for university, it remains to be seen whether these changes may result in the UK becoming a more unattractive place for higher education if students cannot bring their families. British universities depend on international students, and if the UK were to experience a decrease in the number of students from abroad, it may prove to be very damaging for many universities. Similarly, it remains to be seen whether the increase in fees and new visa requirements for nationals of certain countries will act as a deterrent to potential visa applicants or not.

The changes to the shortage occupation list reflect the current issues the UK economy is experiencing, as many of the jobs on the list are ones that had previously been filled by people from other EU countries exercising their free movement. Brexit and the consequent ending of free movement, however, has meant that the UK government is having to be very flexible with work visas in order to ensure that too many jobs or sectors remain chronically understaffed.

Talking of Brexit, the changes to the EUSS are probably the least surprising part of these changes, as the scheme was always meant to have an expiry date, once all the people who had previously been residing in the UK under EU freedom of movement had been officially settled. Conversely, the extension of the Ukraine scheme is unsurprising, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues and the war in eastern and southern Ukraine goes on. It is likely that, unless there is some sign of a reduction in hostilities between now and November, the scheme will be extended further again.


Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules: HC 1715, 19 July 2023
Explanatory memorandum to the statement of changes to the Immigration Rules: HC 1715, 19 July 2023

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