The Home Office is making sweeping changes to the UK sponsorship system.

Details have been patchy and drip-fed over the last few months, but last week’s Statement of Changes might be the best info we’ve had so far.

I’ve now had the misfortune of reading the Statement of Changes and its accompanying Explanatory Memorandum – lucky me!  But I’ve been paying particular attention to how the changes will affect sponsorship in the care sector, which remains a significant focus area for the Immigration experts at Truth Legal.

My colleague had the unenviable task of analysing salary changes outside of the care sector – see his excellent summary here: Making Sense of the 2024 Changes: the Minimum Salary for Skilled Workers.

Our experienced team has weathered immigration changes like this before, and no doubt we will do so again.  For the moment, if you’re confused and unsure, so am I, and I do this for a living!

Read on below for my best explanation, and as ever, for advice on this or any other immigration issue, contact us today.

The Changes:

(1)   Care workers sponsored after 11 March 2024 can no longer bring family members

Care workers used to be able to bring a partner and child(ren) to the UK as their dependants.

This is still an option for Care and Senior Care Workers already sponsored but yet to bring dependants.  It’ll also still be an option for Care and Senior Care Workers applying to extend their visas, or switch employers within the same SOC code.

Sadly, though, Care and Senior Care Workers new to the route (post-11 March 2024), will no longer be able to bring a partner and child(ren) to the UK.

Whether this will bring net migration down as the Government intends, without deterring the migrant workforce so essential to the UK care sector, remains to be seen.

(2)   Employers sponsoring in care roles will need to be CQC-regulated

The exact nature of this new restriction remained unclear until the very last minute, when the change was brought in on 11 March 2024.

On that day and not before, we learned that an employer wanting to sponsor in SOC codes 6145 or 6146 (soon to be 6135 and 6136 – see below), will need to be CQC-registered and carrying on a regulated activity, in order to sponsor from 11 March 2024.

This is tighter than it might have been, and it’s already proving problematic for some of our clients.

CQC-related things we’ve been thinking about this week:

  • Does it apply in Wales?

Answer: essentially yes – if you provide services partly in England and partly in Wales, you will need to be CQC registered in order to sponsor.  If you provide services only in Wales, you will need to be registered with the CQC’s equivalent, Care Inspectorate Wales.

  • Does it apply to children’s homes?

Answer: a bit unclear, but if the children’s home is regulated by Ofsted rather than the CQC, you will run into problems if you want to sponsor Care or Senior Care Workers.

  • What can an employer do if they don’t want to, or can’t, become CQC-regulated?

Answer: erm……

I’d say consider sponsoring in an alternative SOC code, but it’s not without risk.  I think the Home Office will be wary of any attempt to dodge the CQC requirement in this way.  You should definitely take legal advice, whether from us or someone else.

In summary, although it’s a headache, I actually don’t hate the new CQC requirement.  I know the majority of care sector employers sponsor ethically and responsibly, but there is a small minority not being so careful, with terrible consequences for the migrant workers affected.

I hope the new CQC requirement will go some way in tackling unethical and exploitative sponsorship practices.  Regrettably, I know it will also be a sponsorship dealbreaker for many genuine and responsible employers.

For more info on ethical sponsorship, read our separate blog article: Ethical Sponsorship in the Care Sector: Five Steps to Getting it Right.

(3)   Minimum salary changes

Another big one.

Pre-4 April 2024, employers had to pay their sponsored care workers no less than £20,960 per year, and no less than £10.90 per hour.

Post-4 April 2024, these figures jump to no less than £23,200 per year, and no less than £11.90 per hour.

These changes will apply to any fresh sponsorship you undertake after 4 April 2024.

Importantly, the changes will also apply to Care and Senior Care Workers already on the route, but only at the point when they apply to extend their visa, or change their employment, or settle before 4 April 2030.

Remember that National Minimum Wage is also increasing to £11.44 from 1 April 2024, and this applies to all workers, British or otherwise, across the board.

I’ve explained further, and in as few words as I could manage, here:

The general minimum threshold, currently £26,200 for all professions, is being increased to £38,700 on 4 April 2024.  The Government says this is: (a) to reflect the median UK earnings in eligible occupations, and (b) to encourage businesses not to over-rely on migration.  Bit insulting that second one, especially in the care sector.

But the Government has, in its way, recognised that care sector employers often have no choice but to rely on a migrant workforce.  Certain workers, including Care and Senior Care Workers, will be subject to a lower general minimum threshold of £29,000, instead of the eye-watering £38,700.

The £29,000 level is further reduced by the new Immigration Salary List (ISL).  If a job role is included on the ISL, which Care and Senior Care Workers will be, there’s another 20% reduction from £29,000 to £23,200 per year.  The minimum hourly rate of £11.90 still applies.

Lots of moving parts there, but the end result is that Care and Senior Care Workers will need to be paid £23,200 per year, and £11.90 per hour.  You need to be careful if your workers will work more than 37.5 hours a week, as the £23,200 needs to be pro-rated upwards from there.

Some final thoughts:

  • Careful about timings. Although the salary changes are set to come in from 4 April 2024, we’ve been advised that the Sponsor Management System (SMS) will be down from 2 April 2024 at 7pm.  In reality, therefore, you need to make any pre-change CoS assignment before 7pm on 2 April 2024.
  • Can you beat the system? Assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) before 7pm on 2 April 2024 will mean you avoid the new thresholds.  However, remember that your worker must then submit their visa application within three months of the assignment, otherwise the CoS will be cancelled.
  • New system, new SOC codes. To add further complexity, the Home Office is adopting a new set of SOC codes from 4 April 2024.  6145 will be 6135, 6146 will be 6136.  Use the correct code to avoid CoS or visa application rejection.

Contact Us

Navigating these changes is complex for us, so no doubt you feel the same.  For clear advice on immigration matters, contact us today.

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Catherine Reynolds
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