There’s panic in the NHS, which regularly looks to non-EU doctors to fill skill gaps in the UK. And the issue isn't just relevant to the NHS. Jennifer Pinder, from our Immigration team, explains the crisis.

In order to bring in non-EU workers, the NHS often ‘sponsors’ these doctors under the UK’s points based immigration system. It issues non-EU doctors with Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) which enable them to apply for the appropriate visa to work in the UK.

In its ongoing efforts to curb migration, a number of years ago the government set a cap of 20,700 CoS that the Home Office can issue each year. As of a few days ago, there were only 2,870 remaining – until the new annual limit is reset on 6th April.

The NHS is alleging that this annual cap is having a detrimental impact on it’s ability to recruit doctors – and nurses – and is adding to the pressure that Trusts up and down the country are already feeling.

For some time, experts have cautioned that the number of CoS being requested would eventually exceed the allocation available. This happened in December 2017, and again in January 2018. As the months pass by and the number of CoS available diminishes, the requirements for a CoS to be issued become more stringent. Priority is now being given to people earning more than around £50,000 per annum, PhD level occupations, and those on the shortage occupation list. For the NHS, this means that doctors and nurses who are ready and able to come to the UK to work are being refused if they earn less than £50,000. The knock on effect is that these doctors will likely look for employment elsewhere, and our NHS will continue to be understaffed – and under pressure.

This issue isn’t just confined to the NHS.

Any employers that regularly recruit employees from outside the EU, as well as employers who are thinking of recruiting a non-EU worker for the first time, should be conscious of this situation. You need to be mindful that – irrespective of whether all requirements of a Tier 2 (General) visa are met – there may simply not be enough CoS available for you to sponsor a worker, no matter how urgently they are needed.

What can employers do?

If you’re considering sponsoring a non-EU worker, then it’s important to plan ahead. Generally, the requirements are less onerous in April as more CoS are available for the Home Office to issue. So April, and the following few months, are the best time to recruit a non-EU national. This does mean that you’ll need to start planning ahead of this, potentially at the beginning on the calendar year. You’ll need to assess whether there is a genuine vacancy available, whether a resident labour market test has been or needs to be conducted, or whether your business needs to apply to be a sponsored licence holder.

What’s certain is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to recruit from outside the UK. This trend is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. Employers would be well advised to take advice at an early stage if they believe it will be necessary to look outside the EU for the skills they need.

If you have any questions about any of the above issues then please get in touch with our immigration team.