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Tier 2 skilled workers cap is met for third month in a row igniting fears of a longer-term issue

View profile for Anushka Sinha

Immigration lawyers are concerned by the fact that the number of applications for certificates to sponsor Tier 2 (General) skilled workers has exceeded the monthly cap for the third consecutive month. This is an indication of greater pressure on employers’ ability to recruit non-EEA nationals in the longer-term, particularly as it is likely the number of applications will exceed the cap again in March due to the volume of reapplications.  

The annual cap for non-EEA workers is set at 20,700 which is split into monthly allocations. The system is designed to help fill gaps in the resident labour market.

The cap is designed to prioritise applicants according to their advertised salary and therefore the minimum salary threshold changes each month according to the number of applicants above the quota and their points rating. The usual minimum salary for a Tier 2 (General) visa is £30,000 (this varies depending on the threshold set out in the Standard Occupational Classification Codes), assuming the monthly cap is not met. However, the volume of applications in December 2017 set the minimum threshold at £55,000 and in January 2018 the threshold was £46,000 (unless the role is at PhD level or on the shortage occupation list).  

Speculation on factors causing the increase in Tier 2 applications point to a decline in the numbers of EU nationals coming to work in the UK and EEA nationals returning home, meaning employers are having to look further afield to recruit the talent they need.  

The NHS is particularly affected as a third of Tier 2 (General) visas are allocated to medical and other staff within the organisation and these roles tend to be less well paid.  The shortage occupation list already includes some medical professions however pressure is mounting on the Home Office to exempt NHS workers entirely from the cap as the organisation struggles to secure sponsorship for the non-EEA workers it needs.  

Employers in the tech sector generally fare better as salaries are higher. However, if you are concerned about the cap and have an urgent need to recruit staff, you should check whether the roles you are recruiting for fall within the shortage occupation list (some tech roles are within the list), you could consider paying a higher salary to ensure you obtain a certificate or, if you are part of an international group, you may wish to consider assigning staff from your overseas business to fill the vacancy, as Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visas are not subject to the cap.