The Tier 2 immigration scheme, whatever else it might have achieved, has certainly achieved a degree of complexity. The scheme is divided into two separate parts: firstly, a “sponsorship” scheme whereby employers which wish to employ non-EEA skilled migrants must be registered with the Home Office as “Tier 2 sponsors” and, secondly, a scheme of Tier 2 visas for those lucky employees whom the employer has succeeded in “sponsoring” – ie being able to offer them employment.
There has been some discussion recently in the mainstream media about Tier 2, but the full complexity has not emerged – just as well probably. Suffice to say that a few more jargon words like “restricted”, “unrestricted” and “certificate of sponsorship” come into play, and employers have to engage with an internety thing called a “sponsor management system”.
Anyway, to make it all relatively simple, the Tier 2 sponsorship scheme serves to (a) set detailed criteria for sponsoring/employing Tier 2 migrants and (b) limit the number of migrants who can apply for Tier 2 visas.
This system has worked at least tolerably well until late last year. In many cases Tier 2 sponsor employers have succeeded in employing those skilled migrants they wanted to. There are always hurdles and restrictions with Tier 2 but it is noteworthy that, historically, the limit on potential Tier 2 migrants applying from overseas – as opposed to within the UK – was very rarely reached. (There are some complexities to this but, broadly and roughly speaking, there is an annual limit of 20,700 overseas Tier 2 visas.)
This fact indicated that – until recently, at any rate – the Home Office had not been unduly restrictive in setting the limit. But in December 2017 things changed: from then on the monthly limit was routinely reached. This meant that in some cases employers were not able to sponsor those migrants they wanted to – not because there was anything inherently weak about the applications but simply because the limit had been reached and some applications fell outside the limit.
It has been speculated that this is because of forthcoming Brexit, and Europeans’ consequent lack of enthusiasm for working in the UK. EEA nationals, having the automatic right to work in the UK, do not come under the Tier 2 scheme and thus, it has been argued, the Tier 2 scheme has come under greater pressure.
Be this as it may, the reason that this issue strongly hit the media was because of its particular impact on the NHS. A remarkably high proportion of Tier 2 migrants – around 40 per cent – are medical practitioners (doctors, nurses, surgeons, anaesthetists, psychiatrists, paediatricians, radiologists etc), and thus the limit was preventing the NHS sponsoring those medical professionals it needed.
This rang some loud political alarm bells, and the Home Office decided to make some changes, which have emerged in the latest statement of changes to the immigration rules, which come into effect on 6 July 2018. They are, by Home Office standards, remarkably straightforward. The Home Office have simply removed medical practitioners from the Tier 2 visa limit. This will create a situation where such practitioners do not face as much difficulty as they did in obtaining Tier 2 visas. It will also create a situation that frees up a large number of Tier 2 visas for other kinds of skilled worker – ie visas that would have been taken by medics. So the situation will ease for both groups.
It is not the case that medical professionals will now just be able to enter the UK willy-nilly; unless their specialism is deemed to constitute a “shortage occupation” they will still have to satisfy the “resident labour market test” (ie their job must be advertised to test whether any appropriately skilled eligible UK-based person could do it) and in all cases they will still have to apply for and obtain Tier 2 visas. But some years’ experience indicates that the RLMT test is frequently easily satisfied.
Which of course raises the somewhat legitimate issue of why is it that the UK does not produce enough homegrown doctors, nurses and other qualified people?
It is an interesting question which is worth examining but it is a discussion for another day. These changes to Tier 2 are very significant and they are likely to welcomed by both the healthcare sector and the business community generally.
If you or your organisation are interested in Tier 2 you are well advised to consult a competent lawyer. It is a difficult field but one that has now shown some significant flexibility.