Tier 2 relaxes a bit - doctors and nurses are welcome

23 August 2018
It has been suggested now and again that one of the effects of forthcoming Brexit has been to create a general sense of disillusionment amongst EEA nationals. Despite the various Government assurances on the subject some of them, it seems, have simply packed up and gone home.

One piece of evidence in this respect is very interesting. Some years ago the Home Office created the monumentally complicated Tier 2 scheme: the scheme that replaced the old Work Permit system and which is now the main visa route for non-EEA skilled workers.

An important element of the scheme is the annual limit: there is a limit on the number of migrants allowed to come to the UK on Tier 2 visas. The Government has argued that even skilled immigration needs to be controlled because the UK should be working hard to create highly-skilled workers at home rather than just importing them.

This is a tricky political and economic issue. There is undoubtedly something in what the Government says but, on the other hand, businesspeople and others want to run their businesses and organisations and want the skilled people they need to make them function and succeed.

However, the Tier 2 limit was set at a level which experience indicated might be quite reasonable as far as the business sector was concerned. As anybody who has dealt with the Tier 2 scheme will know, it is fraught with intricacy and difficulties. But some employers have managed to grapple successfully with the system - either by themselves or with the help of their lawyers - and they have been generally able to employ the skilled workers from the four corners of the globe that they wanted.

Or perhaps not quite all four corners, because EEA nationals automatically have the right to work in the UK and they are not part of the Tier 2 realm. A lot of EEA nationals are of course skilled people, so employers looking for skilled workers may in many cases have a choice between European migrants and Tier 2 migrants.

But if the pool of skilled Europeans declines then, logically speaking, employers will have to rely more heavily on Tier 2.

This appears to be exactly what has happened. For some years the Tier 2 limit (which is based on a figure of 20,700 per year, plus a few extra) was almost constantly undersubscribed - ie the number of applications was below the number permitted. So, you might say, those employers who were willing and able to engage with the system (and pay the various fees) were more or less happy.

But since December 2017 this admirable state of affairs has no longer pertained. The limit (which is broken down into monthly parts) has routinely been oversubscribed month after month. This means that employers have in some cases not been able to employ those migrants they wanted because the monthly limit had been reached.

Whether this would normally have really worried the Government is difficult to say. It might have given them a golden opportunity to advance their argument about the need to produce homegrown talent. But, shock horror, this statistically unaccustomed situation has had a strongly negative effect on the NHS. It is a remarkable but apparently true fact that about 40% of Tier 2 visas are for the NHS to employ medical practitioners: not just doctors and nurses but a wide gamut of medical professionals. So the NHS found itself in the situation where they could not employ everybody they needed.

This situation looks somehow unbalanced, but it was a state of imbalance that historically was concealed by the fact of the limit routinely not being reached. But, not surprisingly, now that the situation has changed there has been great political pressure on the Home Office to do something about it and make some sort of different arrangement for medical practitioners. Skilled workers may be nice, but skilled medics are essential, as the argument goes.

The Home Office generally has a habit of coming up with the most complicated solutions possible but on this occasion they came up with one that was remarkably simple and elegant. As from 6 July 2018 Tier 2 applications for most medical practitioners will no longer be part of the Tier 2 limit. The NHS will be able to apply for as many medics as they want, as long as the various visa and sponsorship requirements are met.

Not only this, but those Tier 2 applications that would have been taken by medics have now been freed up for other categories, so the whole Tier 2 scheme has been somewhat loosened.

This probably makes a lot of political sense for the Government, who presumably see a need to counter the alleged “Brexodus”. And it is certainly good news for those medical professionals who would like to come and work in the UK.

But Tier 2 remains a complex field. If you are interested in Tier 2 you are well advised to consult a good lawyer.


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