Under Tier 2 of the Points Based System the UK operates a cap on the number of non-EEA migrants that can enter the UK for the purpose of skilled employment. This is done through the administration of “restricted certificates of sponsorship” (work permits). The number of restricted certificates of sponsorship available for new-hires from outside the UK is set at 20,700 annually.
Since December 2017, approximately half of all applications for restricted certificates have been rejected due to the cap being reached. By March 2018 1,226 IT specialists, 383 engineers, 1,876 medical practitioners and healthcare workers, 197 teachers and 584 other professions were unable to take up their job offers in the UK due to the level of demand for restricted certificates of sponsorship (source BBC).
As solicitors we have seen the impact of the current Tier 2 visa cap first hand with employers unable to fill skilled vacancies, forced to offer higher salaries as competition for restricted certificates becomes more intense.
Initially, the Home Office reaction was to defend the cap as an indication that the system was working efficiently in safeguarding the resident labour market. However, responding to pressure from employers, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has confirmed that he will give fresh consideration to the cap on the number of skilled workers given visas. One possible solution could be to exempt NHS workers from the cap as around one third of all restricted certificates are issued to the NHS.
We may see the Government step back from its commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. Political room to manoeuvre may be provided by excluding Tier 4 Student visa holders from the net migration figures, although both strategies have long been resisted by Theresa May who, as former Home Secretary, established the current rules.
Employers caught up in the current cycle of wage escalation and unfilled vacancies will be hoping that Mr Javid gives reforming or restructuring the cap the priority it so clearly needs.