Increased delays for UK work visas—How can we beat the backlog of applications during a time of change?

Global Mobility and HR professionals are working through long delays in UK visa applications for international workers—creating unpredictability and problems across relocation, recruitment and retention. In this edition of Reloverse, we share an update on what’s happening at the UK Government and Home Office with regards to UK Immigration and why—and share solutions for the organisations affected.

Substantial shift

In January, significant changes were announced to the immigration system to tighten up rules on international talent wishing to work, live and thrive in the UK. These included a hike in minimum salary thresholds and higher fees, which led to an influx of visa applications submitted to beat the deadline. What used to be a hassle-free, fairly routine process taking just a day or two online can now take over eight weeks to process. Some of the lengthiest delays affect Defined Certificates of Sponsorship, which employers/ representatives are required to request for any applicants applying for a Skilled Worker visa from outside the UK. However, the entire system is congested end-to-end and there is no reasonable explanation from the British Government.

Slower scrutiny

There’s been speculation in the legal community about whether it’s simply an influx of applications or if something else is contributing to the misery being felt by employers and their international talent as they’re left in limbo, unable to plan the practicalities of overseas relocation.

Some immigration experts believe the process that once focussed on skill levels and salaries now has a broader remit including an enhanced assessment to establish how genuine each application actually is. This can mean employers providing details of their client contracts to establish the need to bring someone in from overseas. But no one knows for sure.

Borders beyond Brexit

The UK Government’s intentions are clear as they announced a five-point plan to reduce levels of legal migration late last year. But the Office for National Statistics’ provisional figures for the year to June 2023 paint a different picture. Net migration of British nationals leaving the UK was—10,000, while 86,000 more EU nationals left than arrived, meaning the majority of those coming to the country are non-EU nationals, including many of the professionals we and our clients are responsible for relocating.

Of the 1,180,000 arriving in the UK, the vast majority (968,000) of applications came from outside the EU. The top five non-EU nationalities making the trip were Indian, Nigerian, Chinese, Pakistani and Ukrainian. A third of those arrived to work, while almost 40% intended to study. In the same period, over half a million people left the UK—meaning net migration stood at 672,000, an increase of the total population of around 1%. This compares with 745,000 in the previous year, which Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak stated was “far too high”. Though there’s no published target figure of what the best balance for a growing economy is.

Skilled salaries

International students, social care workers and their immediate families are cited as the main contributors to the recent increase in net migration, along with humanitarian visa schemes and people claiming asylum. So a raft of revisions have come into force this year. The baseline minimum salary to be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa has increased from £26,200 to £38,700 while the going rate minimum salary specific to each role has also gone up significantly.

At the same time, a list of jobs for which it’s possible to sponsor someone for a Skilled Worker visa at a reduced minimum salary has been made shorter and renamed the Immigration Salary List. The Graduate Visa, a two-year unsponsored work permit for overseas graduates of British universities, is also being reviewed.


The UK is one of many countries that applies minimum income rules to spouse visas, affecting some of the families Santa Fe and employers relocate, including complex rules on how savings are treated in the calculation. Opponents of this approach often refer to a ranking system called the Migrant Integration Policy Index—in 2020, the UK was ranked 54 out of the 56 countries assessed for ease of family reunion.

Positive thoughts

A glimmer of good news is that these measures are not retrospective. The Minister for Legal Migration said in December 2023 “those already in the Skilled Work route, and applications made before the rules change, will not be subject to the new £38,700 salary threshold when they change employment, extend, or settle”.

And many will still be able to apply for a Skilled Worker visa for an eligible role where the salary is less than £38,700 or the standard going rate for the job.

They can be paid 70%-90% of the standard going rate provided the salary is over £30,960 a year and they meet one of the following criteria:

  • They’re under 26, studying or a recent graduate, or in professional training.
  • They have a science, technology, engineering or maths PhD level qualification that’s relevant to the job (if they have a relevant PhD level qualification in any other subject, their salary must be at least £26,100).
  • They have a postdoctoral position in science or higher education.


Some organisations choose to keep visa application skills in-house, many use specialist lawyers, and lots rely on the expertise of their Global Mobility partner such as Santa Fe. Do it Yourself or Do It For Me is very much down to the experience and resources organisations have at hand. We offer visa application support and a processing service for assignees and their family. This includes entry, re-entry, business visas and renewals. We also support customers and Clients with applications for residence permits and monitor visa expiries to ensure employers and assignees remain compliant. It’s something we do every day.

Expert resource

With change comes uncertainty, but if you’re looking for an expert partner who understands everything from compliance to consular support, we would love to support you and your teams. Simply drop an email to and we’ll get back to you.

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