Britain reaches its limit on skilled migrant workers

Government faces criticism that UK is now closed to ‘brightest and best’ after cap on workers from outside EU leads to visa rejections for first time

The official cap on the recruitment of skilled overseas workers from outside Europe has been reached for the first time in four years, the Home Office has confirmed.

The decision means that some applications from businesses and the public sector to fill skilled vacancies from overseas have been rejected, leading to accusations that Britain was now closed to the “brightest and best” from around the world.

The limit on tier-two visas covering skilled migrants earning less than £155,000 a year was set at 21,700 a year in April 2011, in spite of warnings it could prove harmful to the British economic recovery.

Tier-two skilled migrants must have a certificate of sponsorship from a UK employer, meet English language and funding requirements and have at least 70 points under the points-based immigration system. The annual quota is split into monthly allocations and it is understood that the June meeting a few days ago was the first to reject qualified applicants because the limit had been reached.

The reaching of the tier-two skilled worker visa limit coincides with an announcement by David Cameron of a new drive to significantly reduce the flow of skilled workers recruited from outside Europe. He has proposed raising the qualifying salary thresholds, introducing a time limit on declared skill shortage areas and introducing a skills levy on visas to boost funding for apprenticeships.

British business strongly criticised Cameron’s announcement on Wednesday, voicing concerns that the package could worsen already acute skills shortages and damage the economy.

John Dickie, strategy director of the business organisation London First said: “Every skilled migrant we turn away as a result of this cap will hit jobs and growth. Highly skilled workers from overseas are good for the economy – they help firms grow, pay taxes and thus help fund public services.

“Of course business wants to hire locally, but you can’t just magic people up with highly specific skills because they take years to develop. And new opportunities can’t always be planned for.”

The Oxford University-based Migration Observatory reported last month that the annual quota for 2014/15 had almost been reached, with the number of sponsorship certificates issued just 171 short of the limit. It said the increase was the product of increased demand for overseas skilled labour to fill gaps in Britain’s growing economy.

Its director, Madeleine Sumption, said in May that the “data indicate that it is increasingly likely that some employers – including the public sector – may find themselves unable to recruit non-EU staff over the next year”. She predicted that nurses were the most likely occupational group to be turned away.

The immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said: “In the past it has been too easy for some businesses to bring in workers from overseas rather than to take the long-term decision to train our workforce here at home.

“We need to do more to change that, which means reducing the demand for migrant labour. That is why we have commissioned the migration advisory committee to provide advice on significantly reducing economic migration from outside the EU.

“Our reforms will ensure that businesses are able to attract the skilled migrants they need, but we also want them to get far better at recruiting and training UK workers first. We will continue to monitor tier-two takeup, but have no plans to change the limit,” he said.

June 23, 2015

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