After considerable lobbying by the health minister Jeremy Hunt and other ministers, the Home Secretary has today announced changes to the Immigration Rules which include measures to ease pressure on the Tier 2 visa cap. The main change is that all NHS doctors and nurses will no longer be subject to the restrictive Tier 2 visa cap, thus freeing up the visas to be taken up by employers in other business sectors, with effect from 6 July 2018.

These NHS staff will be able to apply for the unrestricted Tier 2 visas, which will enable the health sector to fill the many vacant positions while employers in other sectors will see the benefit of additional visa availability in the July round of restrictive certificate of sponsorship allocations.

This is very welcome news indeed as the Tier 2 cap salary threshold has peaked as high as £55,000 during the past six months, preventing many employers from securing Tier 2 visas for their staff earning less than this figure. We recently published a blog - Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship requests exceed 4,000 in April, against a quota of 2,200 – is it time to reconsider the 20,700 cap? - citing the severe recruitment crisis being experienced by employers in many sectors, particularly lower salary sectors including engineering, IT and architecture, who have not been able to secure Tier 2 visas for their staff.

Whilst not wishing to downplay the significance of this announcement, although this change will ease the pressure on the cap, it will only partially improve the availability of restricted Tier 2 visas, as the overall cap of 20,700 visas per annum will remain in place. Given the level of oversubscription which we have experienced each month since the cap was first reached last December, it is likely that the monthly quota will still be oversubscribed, but just by not as much. So although the minimum salary to qualify for a Tier 2 restrictive visa will fall with the removal of NHS staff from the quota, there will still be significant numbers of higher earners applying for these visas and thus using up the monthly quota.

Previously, some of these higher earners would have been doctors and so their removal from the cap will free up visas for other employers to use, but as we have heard from the media, many doctors failed to secure a visa because their role was not on the shortage occupation list nor did it attract a salary in excess of around £55,000 (nurses on the other hand and a handful of other medical roles are on the shortage occupation list and such roles would have qualified for a visa due to the additional points awarded for shortage occupation roles). So depending on how many nurses, shortage occupation doctors and higher salaried doctors were previously receiving the visas, will determine how many extra visas will be available.

The government has said that there will effectively be 8,000 more of these visas available each year but we will have to await the July visa allocation decisions to find out what the minimum salary will be to qualify. It will vary each month as the monthly quota of these visas varies throughout the year, with more being available during the peak recruitment season over the summer.