The cap for Tier 2 skilled non-EU workers has been hit for the third month in a row, prompting fears that the NHS staffing crisis could worsen. In December and January, the monthly quota was reached for the first time in seven years. This has now continued into the third month prompting calls for a review of the visa cap in light of recent developments.
The visa limits were set 7 years ago when immigration from Europe was booming and many companies and industries could find the workers they need from European countries. With Brexit on the horizon, we have now seen European workers leaving the UK and returning to their home country in the face of increasing uncertainty. In order to fill these gaps in staffing, employers are now looking to recruit from further afield but the Tier 2 skilled worker visa caps are proving problematic.
The cap on skilled workers allows for an annual limit of 20,700 with a fixed number of spaces available every month. Between the date the quota was introduced in 2011 and December 2017, the monthly quota was only reached once. We have now seen a three-month stretch where employees have had their applications rejected. It is expected that this will continue as each month will see fresh applicants in addition to reapplications from the month before.
When the cap was introduced in 2011, the minimum salary for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa was £30,000 or £20,800 for a graduate level role. However, this was increased to £55,000 in December 2017 with evidence showing that anyone applying for this visa category with an advertised salary of less than £46,000 would see their application rejected.
The government has faced calls to ease pressure on key industries by excluding certain roles from the quota. The chief executive of NHS employers, Danny Mortimer has said that NHS organisations are “increasingly concerned at their inability to obtain permits for essential medical colleagues”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is important that our immigration system works in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas. The tier 2 visa route is intended to fill gaps in the labour market. When demand exceeds the month’s allocation of tier 2 (general) visas, priority is given to applicants filling a shortage or PhD-level occupations.”
But this stance has been criticised, areas like London heavily rely on EU workers as well as specific industries, such as agriculture. With EU workers leaving the UK, we could face serious labour shortages.