UK hits cap on letting in skilled non-EU migrants

Source: Financial Times, published on 30 January 2018

The UK has hit its cap on skilled visas for non-EU workers for two months in a row for the first time as companies were forced to look further afield to make up for falling numbers of European immigrants.

Home Office data show Britain reached the official limit in both December and January, contributing to the National Health Service’s difficulty in recruiting doctors from overseas. The NHS turned away at least 20 doctors from outside the EU during the period, according to NHS trusts and recruiters in England.

The spike in applicants for so-called Tier 2 visas — granted according to a points system that measures a worker’s qualifications — has forced up the threshold for acquiring the work permit. The minimum salary needed to qualify, which used to be £30,000, hit £55,000 in December and £50,000 in January.

The Home Office said the points system gives priority to people filling a number of skills shortages — including a range of medical specialities such as consultant-level applicants in clinical radiology and emergency medicine.

The sharp increase in demand for skilled non-EU workers has come as net immigration from the EU has fallen dramatically since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The most recent data available showed a net figure of just 9,000 EU migrants arriving in the second quarter, a number the Office for National Statistics said was not statistically different from zero. Overall net immigration in the year to June dropped by almost a third to 230,000.

Seamus Nevin, head of policy research for the Institute of Directors, said the issue was a “particularly big concern” at a time businesses were beginning their recruitment planning for 2018.

“It is to nobody’s benefit that [the Home Office] are currently blocking people from coming to this country to work in jobs where they are vitally needed,” said Mr Nevin, who indicated the drop in European immigrants had caused companies to seek workers elsewhere.

It is to nobody’s benefit that [the Home Office] are currently blocking people from coming to this country to work in jobs where they are vitally needed

Seamus Nevin, Institute of Directors

The Home Office grants 20,700 Tier 2 visas each year; the monthly limit of around 1,700 — there were 1,436 permits available in December and 1,651 in January — has been breached only once before, in June 2015.

Julia Onslow-Cole, head of immigration for PwC, the consultancy, said that firm caps from the Foreign Office could complicate an already difficult recruiting picture, with a strengthening global economy increasing the international competition for talent.

“If the cap is not reviewed, it has the potential to impact business,” Ms Onslow-Cole said, adding she expected the Home Office to review the limit.

Anna Conway Morris, programme director for child psychology for the East of England, said the cap had prevented her from recruiting an Indian-born psychiatrist to a vacancy in Peterborough. There were no EU applicants for the post, which had been vacant for a year, she said.

Cambridge University Hospitals said the cap had prevented it from recruiting three doctors — two for intensive care and one specialist in liver and pancreatic surgery.

“This unexpectedly adds to current staffing pressures, particularly in our intensive care unit,” the NHS trust said.

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust said it had been unable to bring in 18 doctors from outside the EU because of the limit.

Despite prioritising medical skills, the Home Office would not comment on why the applications in Cambridge, Birmingham and Peterborough had fallen short.

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