Changes to immigration law for businesses

Changes to the immigration rules for business visitors came into force yesterday, 31 January 2024. The Government has also confirmed the implementation date for changes to the minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers.

1 February 2024

Business man reading new immigration legislation

While it is becoming easier for foreign visitors to engage in business in the UK, new legislation will make it difficult for UK businesses to sponsor foreign workers unless they are paid at least £38,700.

Visitor visa changes

The UK government have made some immigration rule changes to expand the scope for business visitors. From 31 January 2024, the following changes to the Visitor visa route take effect:

  • Lifting of the prohibition on intra-corporate business visitors undertaking activities directly with clients. This will enable intra-corporate visitors to engage in client-facing activity incidental to their employment abroad, as long as it does not amount to the offshoring of a project or service by the UK company to the visitor’s overseas employer. All client contact was previously strictly prohibited, with intra-corporate visitors being restricted to internal workshops/ training/ knowledge-sharing.
  • Visitors are now explicitly permitted to work remotely for an overseas employer when they are in the UK, provided remote working is not the primary purpose of their visit. Remote working was previously a woolly area of the law, loosely permitted in guidance issued to Border Officers, but not explicitly set out in rules.

An example of permitted remote working:

An American tourist travels to Scotland to tour the Highlands, visit some castles, and reconnect with their ancestral routes. During this trip, they log on to their computer in the evenings to continue working for their US employer remotely. The primary purpose of the trip is not to work remotely, but to engage in tourism.

  • Speakers at conferences will be permitted to be paid and this is now included in the list of Permitted Paid Engagements. The provisions of the Permitted Paid Engagements Visitor route have been brought under the Standard Visitor route. This means all visitors will be able to undertake Permitted Paid Engagements without the need for a special visa. However, visitors must still have arranged their Permitted Paid Engagements activity prior to travel to the UK, and this must be undertaken within 30 days of arrival in the UK.
  • Scientists, researchers, and academics are permitted to conduct research in the UK as part of their visit. Previously, scientists and researchers could only conduct independent research, and academics could only conduct research for their own purposes if they were on sabbatical leave from their home institution. These changes don’t apply to academics applying for a 12 month Academic visit visa, or those applying to extend their permission from within the UK.
  • Permitted activities for visiting legal professionals have been expanded to allow overseas lawyers to provide legal services. This includes:
    • advice;
    • appearing in arbitrations;
    • acting as an arbitrator or mediator;
    • acting as an expert witness;
    • appearing in court in jurisdictions which allow short-term call or where qualified in that jurisdiction;
    • conferences and teaching;
    • providing advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing;
    • litigation; and
    • transactional legal services, including drafting contracts.

The current structure of the Permitted Activities for visitors is complex. There are currently 10 different categories to choose from, and businesses may have been hoping for a simplification of the Rules.

The Government’s Autumn Statement indicated that in 2024 it “will explore further improvements to the business visitor rules alongside the potential for further enhanced provisions linked to trade negotiations”, so we might yet see further amendments to the business visitor rules later this year.

Implementation dates for Skilled Worker visa changes

The Government has now announced:

  • the increase to the minimum salary to sponsor a Skilled Worker from £26,200 to £38,700 will come in to effect for visa applications made on or after 4 April;
  • sponsored care workers will be prohibited from bringing foreign dependant family members to the UK from 11 March; and
  • The 20% going rate discount for occupations on the shortage occupation list will be removed from 14 March.

With these details confirmed, sponsors can now plan recruitment with more certainty. Those with recruitment plans involving workers that will be paid less than £38,700 need to ensure these applications are made before 4 April 2024.