The cap on skilled non-EU workers reached its annual limit for the fourth month in a row in March, latest evidence from immigration law firms showed, meaning that companies applying to bring non-EU workers in most jobs had to offer annual salaries of more than £60,000. It means that more than 80% of professional employee jobs, including over 90% of teachers, 80% of lawyers and 30% of doctors earned less than the £60,000 threshold, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said.
The latest Migration Observatory commentary, Is the Cap in Hand?, illustrates the effects of a £60,000 threshold on eligibility for work visas in different high-skilled occupations. It is based on data from immigration law firms showing that the salary threshold for most skilled jobs has doubled from £30,000 to £60,000 since November 2017. This is due to increasing demand for ‘Certificates of Sponsorship’ (CoS) – the documents that allow an employer to bring in a non-EU migrant worker on a Tier 2 visa – which has outstripped supply for four months in a row.
Less than 10% of full-time employees in the UK labour market earn more than £60,000. While the £30,000 threshold meant that the majority of professional and managerial jobs make the cut, a £60,000 threshold means that a majority do not. Raising the salary requirement also means that it is easier for some high-skilled jobs to qualify than others. For example, more than 90% of primary and secondary school teachers earn less than £60,000. A majority of doctors earn over this threshold, although it is still the case that over 30% earn less.
The 20,700 cap on skilled non-EU immigration was introduced in 2011 to help the Government to reach the “tens of thousands” net migration target, and until now has done little to actually reduce skilled migration. This is because it was set at a level which was higher than demand, and was only reached once before, in mid-2015. Slots are allocated monthly to spread out supply over the year, and generally require a role to pay at least £30,000. When demand outstrips supply, applications are prioritised based on the salary, among other factors.
Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “One of the notable consequences of the cap being hit is unpredictability. Before this happened, the £30,000 salary threshold was set by the government and known in advance. But once the cap starts to constrain the numbers, the salary an employer needs to pay depends on who else applies, and so will hop around from one month to the next.”
The £30,000 threshold was based on a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee in 2015, as part of a major review designed to maximise the economic benefits of non-EEA skilled migration.
Occupations on the ‘shortage occupation list’ and PhD-level roles are prioritised above other positions and thus face a lower salary threshold when the cap is met. When the cap was reached in 2015, an increase in the salary threshold prevented the recruitment of nurses, prompting the government to review policy and add nurses to the shortage list. Nurses are still on the shortage list and so do not have to meet the £60,000 threshold.
Sumption added: “For the past few years, the majority of professional jobs paid enough to meet the £30,000 threshold. With a threshold of £60,000, most professional jobs do not make the cut.”