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Global HR Lawyers

Skilled Worker route changes in the legal sector – Levelling Down?

25 April 2024

Recent salary increases under the Skilled Worker route are leading law firms to centralise sponsored roles to London and other higher-paying areas of the UK.

The salary thresholds applicable to individual Skilled Workers now also depends on whether transitional arrangements apply to them. This has created additional complexity and sponsor compliance risk for law firms.

This article concentrates on some of the main salary-related changes that firms should be aware of. For a detailed analysis of the Skilled Worker route changes in effect from 4 April 2024, see our earlier article here.

Salary thresholds for a new hire who is a qualified lawyer

The changes to the Skilled Worker route have made it important to carefully check a prospective new hire’s current immigration status, as this will determine which minimum salary thresholds must be met.

If the new hire is already in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa and their first Certificate of Sponsorship for the route was assigned before 4 April 2024, then they will come under transitional arrangements (provided they have remained continuously on the route). What this means in practice is that their annual salary must exceed both a general salary threshold of at least £29,000 and the occupation-related going rate for solicitors and lawyers, which is £37,700 for a 37.5-hour working week.

However, if the new hire requires sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route and is applying from overseas or is switching into the Skilled Worker route from another immigration category, they will not be on the transitional track and will have to meet higher salary thresholds. The annual salary in those scenarios must exceed a general salary threshold of £38,700 and the occupation-related going rate for solicitors and lawyers, which is £52,300. This going rate is a whopping 38% higher than for those covered by the transitional arrangements.

Salary thresholds for a trainee solicitor

The same general principles apply for trainees, in that it will depend on their current immigration status. However, new trainees who require sponsorship are unlikely to already be on a Skilled Worker visa, so the majority will be switching from another visa category (for example Student or Graduate visa) or applying from overseas so will not be on the transitional track.

A key distinction for trainees, however, is that in most cases they will be considered ‘new entrants’ and benefit from a discounted annual general salary threshold of £30,960 and only having to meet 70% of the going rate for solicitors and lawyers, which equates to £36,610. Upon qualification, they will have to meet the £52,300 annual salary rate.

While this is a welcome discount, for regional law firms or trainees based in regional offices, a salary of £36,610 for a trainee and a salary of £52,300 for a Newly Qualified solicitor may be well out of reach. In practical terms, this could result in trainees being much less likely to be eligible for sponsorship in roles outside of London or other higher-paying markets.

Salary thresholds for a paralegal or legal consultant

These roles usually fall under the occupation titled ‘Legal professionals not elsewhere classified’. Individuals not covered by the transitional arrangements must be paid at the general salary threshold rate of £38,700 per year (as this is higher than the occupation-related salary threshold of £30,960). New entrants may however be paid £30,960 per year, as this is the applicable general salary threshold and occupation-related going rate for the occupation.

Those on the transitional track must be paid at least an annual salary of £29,000, or at least £23,200 if they are a new entrant.

It is likely to be very hard for many firms to offer salaries at these levels for non-qualified roles, especially outside of London.

Key take-aways for law firms

As shown in the examples above, it is now more important than ever to carefully review what salary rate an individual must meet to qualify for Skilled Worker sponsorship.

We would also suggest law firms consider the implications of these changes on their overall salary structure and the geographic distribution of roles.

For further information on this topic, please contact Stephen O’Flaherty or Sam Koppel, or your usual member of our Immigration Team.

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