The Coalition Government is committed to introducing a permanent annual limit on the number of migrants entering the UK under Tier 1 (General) and Tier 2 (General) of the Border Agency’s points-based system, to take effect from the start of April 2011. In anticipation of this, interim limits have already been imposed from 19 July 2010, to avoid a last minute rush for visas.  

Tier 1 (General) applications made from outside the UK will now be dealt with on a first-come, first-served basis until 31 March 2011. Where an application meets the requirements of the scheme but granting leave would mean that the quota for that month would be exceeded, the application will be carried over to the next month. It is notable that these interim limits do not apply to Tier 1 categories other than the General category (for further detail see below) or where an applicant is permitted to apply from inside the UK.  

Similarly, sponsors under the Tier 2 (General) scheme will be limited in the number of certificates of sponsorship they may assign until 31 March 2011. If they wish to assign further certificates, they will need to demonstrate a pressing need and that all certificates allocated so far have been exhausted. These interim limits do not apply to Tier 2 categories other than the General category.  

Background: The points-based system is the UK's main framework for regulating the migration of non-European nationals to the UK. It is split into Tiers 1-5 with different entry requirements under each. Tiers 1 and 2 are the most commonly used employment tiers.  

Tier 1 is split into further categories (General, Post-study workers, Entrepreneurs and Investors). The General category is aimed at attracting highly skilled persons to the UK and is weighted towards high-earners and PhD and Master’s degree holders.

Tier 2 is divided into further sub-tiers (General, Ministers of religion, Sportspersons and Intra-company transfer). The General sub-tier applies to skilled workers with a job offer and replaces the work permit scheme. Under this sub-tier, an applicant must:  

  • score sufficient points to qualify;  
  • satisfy maintenance and English language requirements; and  
  • be issued with a "certificate of sponsorship" by an employer listed on the UK Border Agency(UKBA) register of sponsors.  

Only then may the applicant apply for leave to enter or remain in the UK. A registered sponsor may issue a certificate of sponsorship only where they have advertised the post in line with UKBA requirements and are satisfied that no suitable settled candidates have applied. This is referred to as the "resident labour market test". Certain medical practitioners and nurses are exempt from this test as they are considered to be in shortage occupations. For the list of shortage occupations please see UKBA shortage occupation list.  

The principle of sponsorship is that those who benefit from the contributions of migrants should play their part in ensuring that the UK's immigration system is not abused and sponsors are expected to adhere to stringent record keeping and reporting duties in relation to sponsored workers.

Note: The term "European" covers nationals of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. "Settled" means normally resident in the UK with no immigration restriction on the length of stay.