Recruitment blocked by immigration bottleneck

04 / 07 / 2018

Recruitment costs wasted, employers left with unfilled vacancies, and highly skilled prospective employees left in limbo overseas – these are the regrettable consequences of the current Home Office policy to limit the number of skilled workers that UK employers may recruit from overseas.

The UK government has committed to reduce net migration to the UK to less than 100,000.  As part of its policy to deliver on that pledge, the Home Office has imposed an annual cap of 20,700 on the number of overseas recruits that UK employers may sponsor under Tier 2 General of the Points Based System – the successor to the old work permit regime.

First imposed for the year beginning April 2011, the cap has had little impact until recent months as (with the exception of June and July 2015) the number of certificates available each month was greater than the number of certificates requested.  However, in December of 2017 and for each month since then, demand has outstripped supply denying work visas to thousands of overseas workers.

The NHS has been particularly badly hit by the situation.  In April of this year 100 medical doctors from India were denied certificates and for the period from December 2017 to March 2018 it is believed that 1876 medical practitioners and health care workers have been affected.  With around 1 in 11 NHS posts currently vacant the cap on immigration has been blamed for clinics being cancelled and delays in patients receiving care.  The Campaign for Science and Engineering also reported in April that for the same period 1226 IT specialists, 383 engineers and 197 teachers were refused certificates.

When requesting a restricted certificate of sponsorship, UK employers have to show that they have been unable to fill the vacancy from the resident labour market.  The number of requests received is considered each month and points are awarded to each request based on a number of factors including the salary for the role.  Where the number of requests in a month exceeds the number of certificates available, they are allocated to those with the highest score first working down the list until the number of certificates available is exhausted.

In the past the number of points needed has remained constant at 21 (equivalent to a salary of at least £20,800).  However, in December 2017 there was an unanticipated spike in demand and the number of points needed to secure a certificate jumped to 55 (equivalent to a salary of at least £55,000).  Since then the number of points needed has remained high, peaking in March at 56 but never dropping below 46 (equivalent to a salary of £50,000).

In order to score the required 51 points to qualify for a certificate in May 2018, for example, the role needed to be either

  1. a shortage occupation role, (e.g. some engineering, science or IT roles) or
  2. a PhD level role, or
  3. a role recruited via a university milk round with a minimum salary of £41,000, or
  4. an advertised role with a minimum salary of £55,000.

As employers who are unsuccessful can resubmit the request the following month it is clear that without a Home Office change of policy the backlog will continue as pent up demand increases the number of requests each month.

There is no clear information as to why demand has increased so rapidly and unexpectedly, it is perhaps a partial consequence of a decrease in the number of EU nationals coming to the UK or current high employment rates in the UK.

Can employers beat the cap?

The Home Secretary has acted quickly to the press reports regarding the impact on the NHS, announcing the removal of all doctors and nurses from the immigration cap with effect from 6 July 2018.   It is hoped that this will free up some capacity in the system – over 400 certificates were granted to nurses in the month of April alone.

In the meantime, for other roles employers need to check if the cap will apply at all – for example, can the worker qualify as an intra-company transferee, Tier 5 Youth Mobility or based on UK ancestry all of which are outside the cap?  Does the worker have EU nationality or a partner with British or EU nationality or other immigration status able to sponsor them directly?

If the cap cannot be avoided then employers are advised to look carefully at the list of shortage occupations – will the role fit securely within one of the roles classed as so difficult to fill that advertising is not necessary?  If so the number of points available should secure a certificate.

Alternatively, can the salary for the role be increased to bring it to the level required to secure the required number of points – this is to a large extent guess work as the number of points will always depend on the number of certificates requested by employers across the country as a whole.  In addition, any increase in salary must be within the range detailed in the original advertisement for the vacancy – if not then the role will need to be re-advertised to ensure that the higher offered salary would not attract recruits from the resident labour market.

Conclusion

After attracting severe criticism for the hostile environment policy, harsh treatment of the Windrush generation and their families and failing to quell the anxieties of EU nationals living in the UK concerned about Brexit, the Home Office and the UK Immigration system has begun the year on a sour note.  If the system intended to work in the “national interest” continues to block recruitment particularly to key positions in engineering, teaching and medicine it is clear that the Home Office can expect a summer of discontent.

For further information please contact Julia Jackson.