Visas - applicants denied for fifth consecutive month!
- "Skilled worker" visas oversubscribed - thousands refused
- Higher earners prioritised - £60k+ salary required
- Alternative options available
Brexit, uncertainty and skilled workers
The last few months has seen the UK immigration landscape become increasingly difficult to navigate, as Brexit looms and the government continues to try to reduce net migration into the UK to the “tens of thousands”. Since December 2017, UK Visas and Immigration’s “skilled worker” route has become oversubscribed, and many applicants have had their applications for Certificates of Sponsorship refused.
Hiring non-EU nationals - Tier 2 “Restricted” Certificate of Sponsorship (RCOS)
Leaving aside some exceptions, in order to hire a non-EU national, a UK company must apply for a Tier 2 “Restricted” Certificate of Sponsorship or “RCOS” (which used to be known as a work permit) through its sponsor licence. The new hire must then use that Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship to make an application for a work visa. The difficulty for UK businesses is that there are only 20,700 such Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship available per year, to be shared across all UK sponsors, which are split into a monthly uneven quota which decreases as the year progresses. Up until December 2017, the monthly quota had only been exceeded in one month in six years, since the cap on migration and the Points Based System was introduced by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2011.
Brexodus and over subscription
It is not clear precisely what has caused the system to become so heavily oversubscribed in recent months. Prior to December 2017 it was very rare to be unsuccessful in an application for a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship unless the salary offered was at or only just above the minimum threshold. However, it is likely that the UK is suffering from the effects of “Brexodus”. Figures suggest that migration into the UK from the EU has reduced since the UK announced its divorce, coupled with an increasing number of EU nationals returning home. It is thought that the NHS has been particularly hard hit, with many nurses returning back to their home countries. Companies are therefore having to plug the gaps in their workforce by sponsoring staff from overseas.
Priority for higher earners
When the Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship system becomes oversubscribed, priority is given to those applicants who have been offered the highest salary by their prospective employer, and “points” are allocated accordingly. The number of points required for a successful application will depend on demand. Whereas under the Immigration Rules the minimum salary that must be offered in order to successfully apply for a RCOS for an experienced worker is £30,000 (unless a higher minimum salary is required under the Standard Occupational Classification Codes of Practice), by early 2018 it was apparent that the worker had to be offered a salary in excess of £60,000 in order to be sure that the RCOS would be granted. Temporary reduction of the pressure in the system occurred in April 2018, which is when the new “allocation year” began. More RCOS are made available in the earlier months of the allocation year and availability steadily declines each month as we get closer to March each year. However, in May 2018 we saw further disappointed sponsors and prospective employees as the salary offered for the role had to be in the region of £50,000 or above in order for the RCOS to be granted.
Lower paying industries hit hardest - IT, engineering and healthcare the worst
The lack of available Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship below what is a reasonably high salary threshold is having a particular effect in certain industries which rely heavily on migrant labour, such as IT and engineering. Often such industries require niche skills and experience which may not be held by the domestic labour market, which forces companies to look overseas to plug their skills gaps. On 16 May 2018, the BBC reported that the Campaign for Science and Engineering had confirmed, via a Freedom of Information request lodged with the Home Office, that more than 1,600 IT specialists and engineers had their applications for RCOS rejected between December 2017 and March 2018. The request also showed that 1,876 medical staff and 197 teachers had their RCOS requests refused.
As the RCOS allocation year progresses, the number of monthly RCOS available will continue to reduce, showing no respite for those employers which may have been tried on numerous occasions to obtain the RCOS. Given the number of other businesses who are competing for RCOS where they have lost out in previous months, it is expected that the salary threshold for successfully applying for a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship in coming months will be at least in excess of £50,000. As the RCOS must be assigned within six months of the first day of advertising, this may lead to employers having to restart the whole application process again after several unsuccessful attempts to obtain that all-important Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship.
We predict that a number of professional organisations will continue to apply pressure on the government as a result of the recent difficulties to obtain work visas for key staff in areas which we have considerable experience but which are not on the shortage occupation list. With that in mind, and the issue of how to deal with EU nationals after the transitional period post-Brexit, we may well see an increase in the number of RCOS available each year in order to cool the system down.
In the meantime, there are other options available to the Restricted Certificate regime for the right candidate and for certain roles. To discuss these please contact the Doyle Clayton immigration team.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.