The UK Visa and Immigration Authority announced this week that the Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship “RCOS” visa limit has again been reached this month, leaving many Licensed Sponsors unable to employ skilled workers from overseas, despite having identified a suitable candidate and satisfied the onerous requirements of the Resident Labour Market Test. This is the fifth consecutive month since December 2017, where demand has exceeded supply.

What is the RCOS limit?

The limit on Tier 2 Certificates of Sponsorship was introduced 6 years ago, as a method of controlling immigration. All Employers wishing to recruit new hires from overseas are required to register as Licensed Sponsors and apply for RCOS. There is an annual quota of RCOS 20,700 per year, broken down into twelve monthly allocations. Applications are scored by a committee and priority is given to PHD level roles, roles on the Shortage Occupation List and roles which satisfy the Resident Labour Market Test and are paid at the higher end of the scale. The Resident Labour Market Test is a recruitment test designed to satisfy the UKVI, that there are no suitable workers within the EEA who can fulfil the role and therefore ensure that the domestic labour market is not undercut.

The UKVI also prescribes the minimum salary levels that these roles must be paid. Normally, the minimum salary level required for a new entrant is 20,800. However, due to the exceptional demand for RCOS in April 2018 only those roles paid at £60,000 were successful. Unsuccessful applicants are able to resubmit their application for consideration the next month, but they are not given priority over new applicants. This has caused significant problems for employers across all industry sectors, but particularly the Tech Sector, who face a skills shortage and require access to the vast pool of skilled overseas workers.

Why has this problem arisen?

The cause of the surge in demand is not known. However, it could be a knock on effect from the closure of the Tier 2 Intra Company transfer category for short term and skills transfer visas last year. It is also likely to have been compounded by the uncertainty of Brexit which has seen lower numbers of EEA nationals moving to the UK, inevitably affecting the available talent pool.

What can employers do?

With the trend set to continue, it is sensible to manage expectations. Delays in recruitment will be inevitable. Employers who make offers to migrants should ensure they are conditional on receiving a RCOS. Employers who are unsuccessful in their application this month, should also ensure that their resident labour market test remains in date, as if it is completed more than six months prior to the assignment of the RCOS it will not be valid, and employers will need to start the process again.

And on a positive note…

The Home office is expected to announce tomorrow that non-EU doctors and nurses will no longer be subject to the cap on RCOS. This will be welcome news for NHS trusts who have been worried that the lack of RCOS available was restricting them filling job vacancies with doctors from abroad. As a knock on effect, the proposed plan should also free up thousands of RCOS for other sectors as doctors will no longer need to apply for RCOS.