The substantial changes to UK immigration law in April included the introduction of an annual limit on the number of new skilled workers permitted to enter the United Kingdom.  This limit restricts the number of certificates of sponsorship (CoS) available for certain Tier 2 (General) workers to 20,700.  The UK Border Agency (UKBA) allocates a proportion of these "restricted CoSs" each month based on sponsors' applications, ranked in a preferential order.

When the "restricted CoS" system was introduced, the government set the annual limit at 20,700, the approximate number of skilled workers entering the United Kingdom in the comparable category in 2008, just as the recession started to bite.  When the limit was announced, there were protests that 20,700 restricted CoSs would be too few.  These fears have been confounded.  To everyone's surprise, UKBA has allocated significantly fewer restricted CoSs than have been available. UKBA allocated only about 5,400 of the 13,200 restricted CoSs available through the first seven months of this "year."

Possible reasons for this shortfall are the effort required, and risk entailed, in applying for a restricted CoS; decisions of sponsors to do without foreign workers requiring a restricted CoS; and the increasing supply of available workers as the UK job market contracts.  But no one knows for certain why this shortfall has occurred.

Recently, Damien Green, the Borders and Immigration minister, suggested that the government might reduce the annual number of restricted CoSs from 20,700 next year in light of the shortfall this year.  It is difficult to see how reducing the number of available but unused restricted CoSs will reduce overall immigration.  More likely, such a decision will only have the perverse effect of removing the potential for sponsors to hire increasing numbers of skilled migrant workers for positions that the UK labour market cannot supply.