Immigration minister Damian Green yesterday unveiled the criteria for the annual limits on non-EU workers, which take effect from 6 April.
He said that government had listened to business fears about attracting high-flyers, announcing that employees on salaries of more than £150,000 per year would be exempt from the cap. This is a particular concession to employers in the City and in science and technology who recruit internationally.
"Britain needs to attract the brightest and the best to fill jobs gaps, but this should never be at the expense of workers already here," Green said.
"We have worked closely with businesses while designing this system and made it clear employers should look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country."
While welcoming this and the exclusion of intracompany transfers from the quota system, Audrey Elliott, partner at international law firm Eversheds, said UK employers were no longer able to recruit the best candidates from the global workforce with complete freedom.
"If the UK is to retain its competitive edge, the skill and ability of its workforce must continuously improve. While it is by no means the case that skilled and able employees are not available from within the EEA, it is inevitable that instances will occur in which non-EEA nationals offer the best solution to a given recruitment need," Elliott said.
"Curtailing the ability of UK employers to recruit from as wide a candidate pool as possible will work against those companies’ ability to compete with their peers on a global level, which will be to the disadvantage of the City and the UK as a whole," Elliott added.
Alex Paterson, partner at specialist immigration law firm Fragomen, said the Statement of Intent on ‘Tier 2’ did not hold any major surprises. However, "one big question remaining is whether a 20,700 cap limit is sufficient to meet genuine business need", he said.
"The Government needs to be agile in this regard and give a great deal of thought to the delicate balance between delivering on migration level commitments and negatively impacting on our reputation as a primary place to do business," she said.
Recruiters in the City welcomed the move.
"Global high-flyers who can positively contribute to the UK’s economic growth have always been attracted to the City, so the Government must make it as easy as possible for them to continue to migrate to the UK. Today’s decision shows that we now have a government that accepts there sometimes needs to be an exception to the rule, particularly when it will benefit the economy," said Ben Barrat, head of talent acquisition at recruiter Alexander Mann Solutions.
"As well as bolstering the UK’s economic recovery, today’s decision will also enhance the City’s reputation as a global business centre, making it even more appealing to the next generation of global talent."
Immigration rules in a minute:
• 20,700 visas will be made available to skilled workers applying through Tier 2 of the points-based system, as well as 1,000 visas under a new ‘exceptional talent’ route
• Employers will have to apply for a certificate of sponsorship (COS) from the UK Border Agency for a specific post if they wish to bring someone to the UK. This is a change from the current system, which gives businesses an annual allocation
• Employers filling a vacancy that attracts a salary of £150,000 or more will not be subject to the limit on the number of COS that may be allocated.
• The annual limit of 20,700 COS will be divided into 12 monthly allocations. Due to the likely demand in the first month, 4,200 COS will be made available in April.
• After that, the limit will be set at 1,500 places per month. Any places that are unused each month will be rolled over to the following month.
• In the event that the monthly allocation is over-subscribed, COS applications will be ranked using a points system designed to favour jobs on the shortage occupation list, scientific researchers and those with a higher salary. Once a COS has then been granted to an employer, it must be assigned to the prospective employee within three months.
• Workers from outside the EU who want to come to Britain will need to have a graduate-level job, speak an intermediate level of English and meet specific salary and employment requirements.
• The intracompany transfer route, which is not part of the annual limit, will also be changed in three ways:
- The job will have to be in an occupation on the graduate occupation list
- Only those paid £40,000 or more will be able to stay for more than a year. They will be granted for three years with the possibility of extending for a further two
- Those paid between £24,000 and £40,000 will be allowed to come to the UK for no longer than 12 months, at which point they must leave and will not be able to re-apply for 12 months