Immigration Update: Employers Feel the Sponsorship Squeeze

09 / 01 / 2018

Almost exactly one month ago, the UK Visas and Immigration Department held a meeting to determine the distribution of restricted certificates of sponsorship to employers.  Such gatherings are a regular event but this one carried unusual weight.  For the first time in years demand exceeded supply and employers who’d already met the department’s minimum criteria were refused certificates.  The disruption – real and potential – to business and recruitment planning was considerable.

Since April 2011, the department has imposed a cap on the number of certificates of sponsorship available to businesses seeking employees from outside the UK (EU nationals – as yet – are unaffected).  As part of the ongoing drive by the UK government to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, the department has set monthly limits for certificate numbers.  Employers’ applications are assessed on a points-scoring basis which focuses largely on the size of the salary being offered to fill the role.

But until December 2017, the pain for employers has been limited.  In the 81 months that the scheme has operated, the cap has only been reached on two previous occasions (June and July 2015).  For most of the past 6½ years, therefore, all employers who met the stated criteria were successful in securing a certificate.  As we move into 2018 such cosy certainties are evaporating.

To be fair, there has always been an element of gamesmanship about the process.  The department has an annual limit of 20,700 but the monthly limits have always been skewed slightly towards the start of the financial year.  Monthly limits are larger between April and September than in the rest of the year: a position that employers were happy to deal with while certificates remained available throughout the year.

But with the January limit of 1,409 almost certainly being over-subscribed and a similar demand expected for February (the department is meeting as you read this) the landscape is beginning to change.  The over-subscription for certificates essentially creates a new competition, as employers are likely to seek to boost their points beyond the minimum to ensure success.  This creates a pressure to raise the salary attached to the role.  Higher salaries mean more points and a greater chance of success.

As an HR professional, then, what lessons should you carry forward into 2018?  Well, firstly, simply meeting the stated criteria for an overseas recruit will no longer be a simple administrative exercise.  The possibility that a key (and perhaps, urgent) recruitment will be delayed is now a real possibility.

Prospective recruiters will need to carefully review the wording of advertisements. In particular, they should consider broadening the salary range offered to maximise the chances of success if a restricted certificate of sponsorship is needed.  The timing of applications for restricted certificates may become more critical: employers offering lower salaries are more likely to be successful between April and September.

And then there is the looming prospect of Brexit.  As some employers experience a reduction in the number of European Union nationals applying for UK roles, the demand for restricted certificates is likely to intensify as employers look for recruits from further afield.

Here at Wedlake Bell we are able to assist you in the planning, employment, and immigration aspects of recruitment of overseas nationals.