UK reaches cap for restricted certificates for the first time.

For the first time since its introduction in 2011, the monthly quota of Tier 2 (General) restricted certificates of sponsorship (RCOS) has been exceeded. Consequently, applications submitted on or after June 5, 2015 for an RCOS (where applicants were to be paid a salary of £46,000 or less) were rejected unless the role on offer was PhD-level or on the recognised shortage occupation list.

The quota on RCOSs impacts non-European Economic Area nationals applying for a Tier 2 visa (i.e., work permit) from outside the UK who will earn less than a guaranteed amount of £155,300 per year. The current annual quota for RCOSs is 20,700 per year, and a fixed number are available each month (for June 2015, 1,650 certificates were available).

Requests for RCOSs are processed in a priority order based on a points system. Roles on the recognised shortage occupation list are awarded the most points, followed by PhD-level roles, and lastly points are awarded for sponsors completing a resident labour market test. Additional points are awarded for the salary on offer, with the largest number of points awarded to the highest salaries on offer.

This is the time of year when applications are being made for graduate hires in September, and it is thought that a large number of the requests that caused the RCOS cap to be exceeded were for graduate applications.

This development will put many Tier 2 sponsors in a difficult position. There will now be less certainty regarding the Tier 2 visa application process, and overseas applicants may be unwilling to commit to relocation to the UK until the request process has been completed. For lower paid roles, there is the possibility that a sponsor will not be granted a certificate at all.

The Conservative party manifesto included a commitment to maintain the RCOS cap at 20,700 during the next parliament, so it is unlikely that we will see an increase in the quota in the short term. The number of RCOSs available for July 2015 is 2,049.