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Visa cap for skilled non-EU workers hit for third month running


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UK businesses seeking to hire skilled non-EU workers are losing out as it emerges that the monthly quota has been hit for an unprecedented third time in a row.

Yesterday afternoon, the Home Office sent out hundreds of emails to UK businesses that have been waiting for the outcome of the February restricted certificate of sponsorship round. A restricted certificate of sponsorship is needed to support a visa application for most highly skilled non-EU workers coming to the UK.

It’s not good news.

For the third month in a row, and for only the fourth time since a quota was introduced in April 2011, the cap has been hit. This means that many highly skilled workers from outside the EU will be unable to take up their posts, at least until the number of applications starts to fall away (if they can hold out that long) or there is a change in the government’s approach.

What are “restricted” certificates of sponsorship?

Ones that employers cannot issue directly, unlike unrestricted ones which I looked at in this recent post. A restricted certificate must be issued to anyone who is unable to make an immigration application under Tier 2 from inside the UK, unless they will be paid at least the higher rate salary (currently £159,600). Dependants of Tier 4 students must also have a restricted certificate.

To be able to sponsor a worker with a restricted certificate, the employer must first of all apply for one from the Home Office and that application must be approved. The Home Office holds a session each month to determine where the threshold for points will be set based on the number of applications received.

We won’t know what the exact salary threshold was for this round for a few days, until the government updates its information.

How are points calculated?

The Home Office’s criteria for scoring and prioritising applications for restricted certificates is contained in the sponsor guidance.

Jobs that are on the Shortage Occupation List receive most points, followed by PhD level roles and graduate roles recruited through a milkround.

Then it’s a case of how much the business is willing to pay. Companies forking out the highest salaries are rewarded with a certificate of sponsorship and those paying lower wages enter into the lottery.

So businesses just wait until March, right?

From the information I’m receiving, it is starting to look like the threshold for rejection could be around the £50K mark. Initially it was thought that December and January were just blips. Now it’s starting to feel like this could be a long-term issue.

The government has to step in now and either change the points or the criteria or create exemptions. Calls for NHS workers to be removed have already been made.

The sponsor guidance is clear that restricted certificates are for very talented non-EU migrants who will do highly skilled jobs, that “suitable” resident workers haven’t applied for, for a high salary (the minimum that can be paid to is £30,000 (unless an exemption applies)).

With Brexit looming, now is the time for businesses to be supported in their efforts to compete for global talent.


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