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Sponsored worker restrictions – why are so many employers being refused permission to employ new staff from overseas?

Employers who need to recruit overseas talent to fill skills gaps in their businesses find themselves limited by the monthly cap on new worker numbers.  To secure permission from UK Visas and Immigration to sponsor a new migrant employee, the prospective employer must secure an allocation of restricted certificate of sponsorship (RCoS), for which the proposed sponsorship must score points. Points are awarded as per the table pasted below, but the key problem is that in December 2017 the minimum number of points required to secure an allocation rose sharply.  Below we consider the specifics of that points increase and look at the reasons behind it.

For a couple of years, the minimum number of points required to secure a RCoS allocation has been 21; usually achieved by completing a Resident Labour Market Test (advertising) for 20 points, and then paying the minimum acceptable Tier 2 salary (at least £20,800) for an extra 1 point.  In December 2017, the minimum number of points required shot up to 55, indicating that a salary of at least £55,000 per year was required to secure an allocation that month.

In January 2018, the points requirement fell slightly to 46 points, and February 2018 has maintained that figure.  This number is unusual because it doesn’t indicate that many successful applications were based on completion of a Resident Labour Market Test (earning 20 points); there is no salary bracket awarding 26 points (to total 46 points).

The only way to qualify for 46 points is to earn 30 points at the outset, which is achieved by falling into one of two categories:

  • The Resident Labour Market Test was met via the “new graduate jobs or internships” provision in the Immigration Rules; or
  • The job is one of a small number of specified public service roles, and additional advertising requirements have been complied with.

The second option is the likely root cause of the current difficulties.  The public service occupations qualifying for 30 points include nurses, and the UK is experiencing a chronic shortage of nurses, exacerbated by the high level resignations of EU nurses leaving the UK due to Brexit.

To top up the overall points calculation to 46 points, the successful nurses (or alternative applicants) must be earning between £36,000 and £36,999.99 per year, so the minimum acceptable salary is still quite high, but this is a lot lower than what a ‘standard’ applicant would need to earn to qualify for sufficient points to put them within an eligible total.  An applicant qualifying for the basic 20 points after completion of the Resident Labour Market test would need to score 50 points in total to earn enough to have qualified for an RCoS allocation in January or February 2018.  This equates to a salary of £50,000 to £54,999.99 per year (30 points).  Anything less than this (£49,999.99 for example), would have scored just 25 points, putting the applicant outside the qualifying points totals.  This means that minimum acceptable salaries for ‘standard’ applicants are currently far higher than have previously been required.

Between April 2016 and November 2017, these problems simply did not arise; it has only been the past three months that have seen pressure on the allocation of RCoS available.   So, what can employer do?  There are really only two options:

  1. Increase the amount offered to new employees, and advertise at that level – A role advertised with a starting salary of at least £50,000 has a much stronger chance of securing an RCoS allocation in the current climate; OR
  2. Wait and see whether the allocation returns to normal – The number of available RCoS changes throughout the year, and we are reaching the end of the current allocation year.  As a result, the number of available RCoS has been falling each month, with next month’s allocation the lowest available.  From April however, the allocation will re-set, with 1200 more spaces than will be available in March.  This means that (hopefully), from April 2018 more applications will be approved.

Remember that you have six months from the date your adverts were first placed to assign your RCoS to your new employee, giving employers multiple attempts to secure an RCoS allocation.  If you have been struggling since December, prepare yourself for more potential disappointment in March.  However, if you are then able to try again in April, there is a much better prospect of success.

If you would like to speak to an immigration lawyer about your sponsorship issues, call Latitude Law on 0161 234 6800 (Manchester) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool).