A new statement of changes to the immigration rules was published on 17 July 2023. This statement includes some notable changes affecting the student route and students switching into work immigration routes, the EU Settlement Scheme and the Ukraine Extension Scheme. There are also changes to the shortage occupations list and a new genuineness requirement has been introduced for sponsored workers.
Changes affecting students
In a key change, international students applying for a student visa to undertake courses which will start on or after 1 January 2024 will no longer be permitted to bring dependants with them to the UK, unless the student will be government sponsored or studying towards a doctoral qualification (PhD or otherwise) or a research-based higher degree. The immigration rules define a "research-based higher degree" as "a postgraduate programme comprising a research component (including a requirement to produce original work) that is larger than any accompanying taught component when measured by student effort".
This change will not apply to any applications for student visas which were made before 17 July 2023. Further, those already in the UK as the dependant of a student will still be able to extend their leave in line with the main student applicant.
Switching into work routes
From 17 July 2023, anyone who is in the UK under the student immigration route will no longer be allowed to switch into work routes before they have completed their courses, other than where the exception below applies. PhD students are now only permitted to switch into a work route after completing 24 months of their course.
Helpfully for employers, students studying at degree level or above with an education provider that have a track record of sponsor compliance will still be able to apply to switch onto sponsored work routes before the end of their studies, on the condition that their employment start date is not before the completion of their course. It will therefore be important for employers to check the course completion date before deciding the employment start date and assigning the certificate of sponsorship.
Changes to the EU Settlement Scheme
Extending pre-settled status
Last year, the High Court found that the Home Office’s requirement for pre-settled status holders to make another application under the EU Settlement Scheme for settled status or risk losing their residence rights was unlawful. In response, this statement of changes provides that people with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme will soon automatically have their pre-settled status extended by two years if they have not obtained settled status by the time their pre-settled status was initially due to expire. Detailed in a separate announcement also published on 17 July, this approach is due to take effect from September 2023.
The Home Office has also confirmed that it will begin to automatically upgrade pre-settled status holders to full settled status during the course of 2024. Eligibility for these automatic upgrades will be determined by automated checks to establish the person’s ongoing continuous residence in the UK.
Late applications and illegal entrants joining family
Importantly, it will soon become harder for EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members to submit a late application under the EU Settlement Scheme. From 9 August 2023, meeting the application deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme will be a validity requirement rather than just an eligibility requirement. Practically this means that where reasonable grounds for submitting a late application are not found, an application can be rejected by the Home Office with no right of appeal or administrative review.
The Explanatory Memorandum advises that the Home Office will not reassess any applications that have already been confirmed as valid and where a certificate of application has already been issued.
In addition, from 9 August 2023, illegal entrants will no longer be able to make a valid application to the EU Settlement Scheme as a "joining family member".
Anyone affected is advised to take legal advice as soon as possible, with a view to submitting an application before 9 August 2023.
The Surinder Singh and Zambrano routes
Both the Surinder Singh and Zambrano routes will be closed to new applications from 8 August 2023. The Surider Singh route is used by those who were living in the EU with a British citizen before Brexit to enable them to come to the UK under the EU routes, rather than as, say, the spouse of a British national, which has more onerous financial requirements. The Zambrano route applies to the primary carers of British citizens residing in the UK.
These routes will continue to remain open to those who are already on them, as well as those who have a pending application, administrative review or appeal.
Helpfully, children of durable partners, where the child has turned 18 since being granted pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, will now qualify as dependant relatives for any applications made on or after 9 August 2023.
Changes to the Ukraine Extension Scheme
From 7 August 2023, the Ukraine Extension Scheme will be extended to allow Ukrainian nationals who had permission to enter or stay in the UK for any period between 18 March 2022 and 16 November 2023 to extend their stay in the UK. This period had previously ended on 16 May 2023.
The statement of changes has also extended the deadline for new applications under the scheme, initially scheduled for 16 November 2023, until 16 May 2024.
Changes for Skilled Workers, Global Business Mobility and Scale-up Workers
Updates to the shortage occupations list
The shortage occupations list for Skilled Workers has been expanded to include agriculture and fishing trades as well as numerous construction jobs, such as bricklayers and masons, roofers, roof tilers and slaters, carpenters and joiners, plasterers, and construction and building trades not elsewhere classified.
New specific genuineness requirement
The statement of changes has also introduced a new specific genuineness requirement for the Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility and Scale-up routes. Those applying under these routes will now need to show that they genuinely intend and are able to undertake their proposed role and will not take any unpermitted additional employment in the UK.