The UK government’s new immigration limits: what employers need to know

by Laurie Anstis on July 1, 2010

It was Conservative policy in the 2010 election to put a limit on the number of non-EU migrants allowed into the UK, and LibDem policy to put in place regional limits on non-EU immigration, so it is no surprise that one of the first actions of the coalition government is to announce a limit on the number of non-EU migrants permitted to enter the UK.

On 28 June 2010 the government announced the first stage of this process – interim limits to apply from 16 July 2010.  These are in place to prevent a rush of applications before the permanent limits apply from April 2011.

These new restrictions only apply to the Tier 1 (General) and Tier 2 (General) elements of the points-based system.   Tier 1 corresponds to the old highly-skilled migrant scheme, and Tier 2 to the old work permit scheme.  It is important to note that the government is not, at present, suggesting there will be limits to other routes to enter the UK, such as family members, students or Tier 5 temporary workers.

Tier 1

For the Tier 1 (general) route, the limit will apply by raising the points required from 95 to 100 (you can see the effect of this by using the points calculator here).  In addition to this, there will be a monthly cap on the number of applications considered, set at the number of applications received last year.  This will operate on a monthly basis.  Once the limit for that month is reached, applications will be queued and processing will only start again the following month, based on their order in the queue.  This at least avoids the prospect of people camping out overnight to submit their application on the first day of the month, but, if there is a rush of applications, might well mean that come December there are sufficient applications already queued to take up the entire allocation of permits through to April, and there is no prospect of having a fresh application considered in the Jan – March 2011 period.

The Tier 1 investor, entrepreneur and post-study work categories remain unrestricted, and in-country applications by existing Tier 1 permit holders to extend their stay are unaffected by this process.

Tier 2

The restrictions in the Tier 2 (general) category will be imposed by limiting the number of certificates of sponsorship that a sponsor can issue through the sponsorship management system.  Overall, there will be a cut of 1,300 certificates of sponsorship.  Intra-company transfers, sportspersons and ministers of religion are not affected but, surprisingly, applications for posts on the shortage occupation list will be subject to this limit.

Once a sponsor has used all their certificates of sponsorship, additional certificates will only be granted in cases of a “pressing need”, with priority given to applications to extend existing permissions and roles on the shortage occupation list.

What employers should do

Under this new regime, employers will have to make sure applications are made at the earliest possible opportunity.  If an application can be made before 19 July 2010, then it should be.  If not, and particularly if an employer is supporting an application in a Tier 1 application, it must be made as soon as it can be, before the supply of permits runs low.  The pressure is likely to be particularly felt as students graduate and come onto the job market (although the post-study work category will assist with this).  The limits on the Tier 1 (general) and Tier 2 (general) routes will also mean that employer should pay close attention to see if a potential employee can use a different, non-restricted route, such as the post-study work category.

Employers who are facing skills shortages and have historically had a need to recruit non-EU nationals will need to plan their resourcing requirements well in advance.

All this is, of course, just the start of the process.  From April 2011 we can expect there to be permanent limits, and employers who have an interest in this should contribute to the separate consultation processes being run by the Migration Advisory Committee and the UK Border Agency with closing dates of 7 September and 17 September 2010 respectively.