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Can your business hire an overseas worker?

24 May 2018 By Hayley Kirton

Drastic restrictions mean Tier 2 visas have been oversubscribed for months – but employers can do much to improve their odds

When it comes to Tier 2 visas, employers know the world is their oyster – because the process is likely to leave a bad feeling in their stomachs after months of waiting.

Government data released in April revealed that allocations of restricted certificates of sponsorship for Tier 2 visas, which must be obtained by firms wishing to hire skilled non-EU staff, had reached their limit for the fifth consecutive month. The result is a huge restriction on the number of businesses that can access overseas workers, which has caused alarm and raised fears over talent shortages.

Applications that met the minimum requirement of 21 points under the points-based system – which ranks requests on factors like salaries, education level and whether there is a known shortage of UK workers for a particular role – would have previously been granted a certificate. In April, no certificates were awarded for applications scoring below 46 points. 

This came as an unprecedented shock – before December 2017, the monthly limit had only been exceeded once since the system’s introduction in 2011.

“A member has told us that a UK top 10 firm recently had to withdraw offers made to overseas accountants because they could not afford to keep reapplying for visas each month, only to find the cap being reached again,” says Philip Campbell, policy lead at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation. 

The healthcare sector has been particularly hard hit. Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, revealed in April that he was aware of at least 400 doctors who had been unable to obtain entry to the country for a role. 

But not all hope is lost. People Management presents a five-step plan to boost your chances of securing a restricted certificate of sponsorship for a Tier 2 visa.

1. Plan ahead

The sponsorship certificate allocation was previously spread evenly throughout the year but, since April 2017, the annual Tier 2 visa quota of 20,700 has been front-loaded to the start of the financial year. Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, recommends planning applications for the beginning of the financial year if possible. “There’s much more chance because, when it drops to 1,500 and then 1,000 in the final month of the financial year, that’s when things go wrong,” he says.

However, according to the most recent government data, more applications were also made than restricted certificates of sponsorship available in April 2018. 

2. Use a salary range

The minimum salary for a role requiring a Tier 2 visa is £30,000. However, every time the applications limit is exceeded, this cap is effectively increased because of how the points system operates. Research from the Migration Observatory revealed that, in March, most jobs would have required a salary of £60,000 to snag a restricted certificate of sponsorship.

“We’ve been used to advising our clients that, if you meet the minimum salary requirements, then pretty much your application’s going to be approved,” says Tony Haque, immigration lawyer at Baker McKenzie. “But the last six months have really shifted the goalposts on the salary front.” Haque adds that, at the moment, he is advising clients to go to market with a salary in the region of £50-60,000. 

Because employers don’t know what earnings will be needed in advance, they can find their application is turned down even when they thought they were offering more than enough to meet the requirements. 

“Use a salary range,” says Beech. “It gives you much more choice if you find that you need to bump the salary up for that person... it means you won’t have to start the advertising campaign all over again.”

However, it has to be truthful. “You have to show that [for] the job title you’re offering, you have historically offered the going rate as the top end of that salary range, or you have evidence that you will definitely apply that top end of the salary range to a settled worker should they apply and have the experience and qualifications,” says Beech.

3. Check out other immigration routes

Before racing down the Tier 2 route, Beech recommends exploring what else might be available for the would-be employee, such as the possibility they have EEA family members or a claim to UK ancestry: “It won’t fit everyone but it’s worth asking.”

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, suggests looking at a youth mobility scheme, also known as a Tier 5 visa, which allows young people to work in the UK for up to two years. 

4. Look at what you already have

Davies warns there is “clear evidence” that organisations have underinvested in upskilling staff recently. “Our investment levels for skills and physical infrastructure are very disappointing compared with our OECD counterparts, so this for some employers could be a bit of a wake-up call,” he says.

However, Haque argues: “There is a job to be done in terms of upskilling, but most businesses need to fill their positions quicker than the time it takes to train someone up to fill a role.”

5. Cross your fingers

Experts warn that the situation is unlikely to improve for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think there is suddenly going to be a return to having vacancies being considered at £30,000, as it has been for the majority of the time since 2011 for this particular scheme,” says Beech. 

Haque adds that a combination of EU nationals being put off working in the UK following Brexit and the country’s record-low unemployment levels are further compounding things. “I’m not anticipating this situation is going to change,” he says. “I expect it to carry on for some time.”

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