Tier 2 visas: foreign worker cap still being hit despite medical staff exemption

The number of skilled foreign workers applying for visas under the Tier 2 system is still outstripping the number of visas available, despite doctors and nurses being removed from the restriction last month.

According to a report in the Financial Times, there were more applications for employer-sponsored visas from non-EEA workers last month than there were visas available. This was despite Teresa May suggesting in June that the exemption of medical professionals would free up thousands more allocations for other professions in which there was a skills shortage, such as teaching and engineering.

When it announced the exemption last month, the Home Office said that about 40% of visas were allocated to NHS staff.

The number of visas available through the Tier 2 scheme is limited to 20,700 a year, with varying allocations set each month. The cap has been reached every month since December.

However, some businesses were still having prospective employees’ visa applications rejected despite the medical professionals’ exemption – including law firms.

One told the FT that the removal of medical staff from the system helped lower the minimum salary firms were able to offer migrant workers hoping to obtain a visa. It said it had an applicant accepted on a £41,000 a year salary but one on £40,000 rejected.

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, suggested that the continuous reports of the cap being hit “shows the folly of a system based on numbers rather than the contribution people come to make”.

A spokesperson for manufacturing and engineering body EEF said the government should scrap the cap entirely, along with the immigration skills charge – which is levied to all organisations that employ a worker on a Tier 2 visa.

“As an absolute minimum the government should remove job roles on the shortage occupation list from the cap, a third of which are engineering job roles. If it’s been proved they are in shortage then it makes no sense in stopping these professionals coming into the UK and filling vital roles that industry needs,” the spokesperson said.

“Engineering UK predicts that 265,000 skilled entrants are required annually to meet demand for engineering companies through to 2024.

“We know from our own research that three-quarters of manufacturers have found it difficult to fill key engineering roles in the past three years and there is little confidence that the UK will be able to provide the people and skills companies need in the near future.”

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