Tier 2 and certificates of sponsorship Q&A

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08 / 9 / 2016 1pm

This section answers common questions about the certificate of sponsorship application process and questions following the Tier 2 policy changes published in March 2016, when the government announced changes to the Tier 2 (General) immigration route that will take effect in autumn 2016 and April 2017. Find out more information about the changes on our Tier 2: Policy reform page

Acronym glossary:

UKVI - UK Visas and Immigration
ILR - Indefinite Leave to Remain
CoS - Certificate of Sponsorship
NMC - Nursing and Midwifery Council
EEA - European Economic Area
OSCE - Objective Structured Clinical Exam
ISC- Immigration Skills Charge

General Tier 2 and Certificate of Sponsorship questions

NEW Tier 2 policy change questions

What is the UK visa and immigration process for allocating restricted CoS?

There is a limit of 20,700 restricted CoS available each year under Tier 2. These are allocated on a monthly basis. 

Employers wishing to recruit a non-EEA skilled worker who is currently outside of the UK, will need to apply for a restricted CoS. The allocation of restricted CoS is determined on the 11th of each month (or closest working day) when UKVI holds a panel meeting to decide.

Applications must be received by the 5th of each month to be considered on time. If applications are not received by this date, they will be reviewed at the following month's panel meeting. For example, if an application is received by the Home Office (UK Visas and Immigration) on 7 May, it will be reviewed by the panel on 11 June.

The panel's decision making process is based upon points gained against one of the three following categories and salary awarded for the job: 

  • the job is identified on the shortage occupation list
  • the job is at PhD level
  • the resident labour market test (RLMT) has been conducted or the job is exempt.

The salary rates work on a sliding scale and higher paid jobs are awarded more points. A minimum of 21 points is required. 

Employers with queries relating to specific applications are encouraged to contact UKVI directly through their employer helpline 0300 123 4699.

If our application for a restricted CoS is successful, how long do we have to assigned the CoS to an individual before it expires?

The restricted CoS must be assigned to an individual within three months, or it will expire and the employer will need to reapply. Once the restricted CoS has been assigned, the individual will have a further three months to apply for Tier 2 entry clearance before the CoS expires. The employer will only be charged for the certificate at the point of assigning it to an individual.

Is it true that staff from overseas will soon need to earn at least £35k in order to stay in the UK?

In 2011 the government announced the introduction of a cap on the time individuals can spend on Tier 2 visa, set at six years. To stay beyond six years will require the individual to apply for settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain). A salary of £35k is required to qualify for settlement, unless their role is or has been included on shortage occupation list at any time while they have been sponsored to do that role.

The £35k income threshold came into effect in April 2016 for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) applications. This new earnings threshold will apply to individuals who were ranted a Tier 2 visa after 6 April 2011. As a Tier 2 visa can be extended for up to six years, we are not expecting any individuals to be affected until April 2017 at the earliest, though employers should start preparing for how this could affect people in the existing workforce. 

Please see our ILR webpage on this for full details, exceptions, and the other settlement criteria.

The overseas nurse registration process requires applicants to sit a test in the UK before they can legally practise as a nurse, how does this work with the Tier 2 visa process?

The NMC introduced a new process for overseas nurse registration in October 2014, which includes the requirement for applicants to complete a practical test (OSCE) in the UK prior to gaining registration. In March 2015, the Tier 2 visa process was amended to reflect the need for nurses to gain entry to the UK in order to sit the OSCE, prior to officially commencing employment as a nurse. 

This amendment enables pre-registration nurse candidates to now enter the UK and prepare for the OSCE, whilst working as a pre-registration candidate, for up to three months. 

See our web section on recruiting overseas nurses for more information.

We have made an offer of employment to a new overseas recruit, must we now wait for the allocation panel meeting next month to apply for a restricted CoS?

It is possible to request urgent applications for restricted certificates of sponsorship before the next official panel date with a supporting business case, but the role must meet the minimum points scored in the last Tier 2 restricted CoS allocation meeting.  

Employers wishing to use this route should use their sponsorship management system account to make the application and then email Tier2Limits@ukba.gsi.gov.uk explaining why the application is urgent.

If an application for a restricted CoS is unsuccessful, will the application be automatically submitted for consideration in next month's panel? Will we get charged each time we apply?

No, if your application is unsuccessful then this does not automatically roll over to the next month. If you still wish to employ the individual, you will need to re-apply the following month. Payment is only made when you assign the CoS to an individual.

If my application is unsuccessful, how long can I continue to re-apply for a restricted certificate of sponsorship job for a specific post?

Employers should be mindful of the six-month RLMT advertising rule. As time elapses between the post first being advertised and the CoS being assigned to the individual, it may compromise the applicant’s ability to make their visa application within the deadline. For example, if the date that a post is first advertised is 1 January and the CoS isn’t allocated to the trust until 11 June, this only gives the applicant until the 30 June to submit their application.

Would an application with a score of 21 points be less likely to get a restricted CoS than one scoring 54 points?

To qualify for consideration, a restricted CoS application must score a minimum of 21 points. The points-based prioritising system applies when there are more applications than there are restricted CoS available in any one month. This is referred to as over subscription, in such cases it is possible that the lowest scoring CoS applications will be rejected.

If we have to wait for the panel to meet, presumably this means we may have a delay in recruitment processes while we wait to find out if we have got a restricted CoS?

The UKVI panel will meet on the 11th of each month (or nearest working day) to consider all applications. Employers will need to submit any applications before the 5th of the month to ensure consideration by the panel. Employers will need to consider these dates within their recruitment processes in time to meet their recruitment needs.  

What if we have an urgent need for additional sponsored workers?

Employers may request additional unrestricted CoS using the sponsorship management system but you will need to show that you have used all your certificates of sponsorship and have an urgent need to issue further certificates of sponsorship. UKVI will only approve urgent requests for restricted CoS in exceptional circumstances and the employer will need to show that the CoS is only for genuine, urgent reasons. For example:

  • where there have been delays caused by UKVI resulting in a newly licensed sponsor needing a CoS for a migrant who is due to start work before the sponsorship panel sits in the following month
  • where a consultant surgeon has been recruited and needs to be appointed immediately because they have patients listed for life-saving surgery before the panel sits in the following month.

When applying for a CoS what does the salary threshold include?

The salary thresholds are based on guaranteed pay, so it can include:
  • basic gross salary including tax
  • high cost area and recruitment & retention premia pay supplements, plus
  • any contracted enhancements for shift patterns.
Pay or allowances which are not guaranteed (such as overtime or performance pay) or which would not be offered to resident workers in similar circumstances, should not be included. Earnings from supplementary employment should also not be included. 

It is important that the guaranteed salary package stated on the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) matches (or is within the range) stated on the original advertisement for the role, otherwise the CoS application will not be granted.  

From which date does the applicant have three months to complete their OSCE exam - is it the date they enter the UK or the date on the CoS?

The applicant has up to 3 months from the employment start date noted on the Certificate of Sponsorship to sit the OSCE exam.

If a candidate fails the OSCE at first attempt they will need to re-sit the test within a maximum of eight months from the start of their visa.  Employers must notify UKVI within 10 working days when a re-sit date is confirmed.

If a candidate fails the re-sit, or if there are other reasons that the sponsorship/ employment will not be pursued any further, the individual will lose their right to remain in the UK.

When the changes to Tier 2 come into force in autumn 2016 can we still make bulk applications for Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (RCoS)?

The limit on restricted certificates of sponsorship will remain at 20,700 per year. These are allocated monthly. Employers wishing to recruit a non-EEA skilled worker who is currently outside of the UK will need to apply for a restricted CoS. UK Visas and Immigration holds a panel meeting on the 11th of each month (or next working day) to determine the allocation of restricted CoS. 

Employers will continue to be able to apply for the number of RCoS required from the monthly allocation through the sponsor management system (SMS). The Home Office has however been really clear that employers must only apply for certificates when you need them and when you are certain they will be used.  If the limit is oversubscribed in a particular month, unnecessary RCoS requests could increase the points score required and result in more employers being denied RCoS which they need.

Now that nursing is remaining on the Shortage Occupation List, is nursing subject to the Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship (RCoS) limit?

All shortage occupations, including nurses, fall within the overall limit of 20,700 RCoS per year.  If the limit is oversubscribed, the points-based prioritising system will be used and shortage occupations will be given extra weighting in the allocation process, increasing the likelihood of nursing applications being granted. 

In these circumstances, the inclusion of nursing on the Shortage Occupation List is likely to have an impact on the success of other applications from health and other sectors.  It is therefore important that employers only apply for certificates when you need them and when you are certain they will be used. The individual being sponsored must have a job offer from you and either: 

  • have obtained full registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council; or 
  • have passed the Nursing and Midwifery Council's Computer Based Test (CBT) of competence (part 1); or 
  • have obtained Nursing and Midwifery Council permission before 30 April 2015 to undertake the Overseas Nursing Programme, and be sponsored to undertake a supervised practice placement as part of the programme, which has been approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. 

See our shortage occupation list section for more information.

Will the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) be applied to employers of non-EEA migrants who are assigned a certificate of sponsorship before April 2017?

No, the ISC will not be applied to employers of non-EEA migrants assigned a CoS before April 2017.  The government will set out further details of how the ISC will apply from April 2017 in due course, including whether or not the ISC will apply to those who were sponsored in Tier 2 before April 2017 when they make extension applications. 

Do the new higher salary thresholds apply to those individuals currently on a Tier 2 visa?

No, the new minimum salary threshold applies only to those making an application under Tier 2 (General) for the first time from autumn 2016. Applications for Tier 2 (General) extensions or to change employer for those already in Tier 2 before autumn 2016 will not be subject to the new salary threshold.

What will the funds raised from the introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) be used for?

It is anticipated that funds from the ISC will be used for education and training of the resident workforce. We are awaiting further details to be published about how the funds will be used and our website will be updated as more information is made available.

I’ve heard that the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will need to be carried out before recruiting a non-EEA nurse in future, even though nursing is remaining on the shortage occupation list – is that correct?

Yes, nurses will remain on the national shortage occupation list, but the usual exemption from the RLMT which comes from being on the shortage occupation list will not apply to nurses. This is because if a large volume of nurses are sponsored in Tier 2, they could prevent other occupations from being allocated places in the Tier 2 limit.  It is therefore important that nurses are only sponsored where they are needed – i.e. for posts which genuinely cannot be filled from the resident workforce.  

Employers will need to carry out a RLMT before recruiting a non-EEA nurse from autumn 2016. 

Is the total cost of the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) payable upfront when an employer assigns the certificate of sponsorship or on an annual basis?

This is likely to be a single, upfront payment based on the length of the CoS. We are awaiting more guidance around how the ISC will work in due course.

If payment of the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) is taken at the point of assigning the certificate of sponsorship, will it be refunded if for example the individual fails the OSCE and as a result must leave the UK?

The government will set out further details of how the ISC will apply, including the policy on refunds, in due course.  It is unlikely, however, that refunds will be offered where an individual has been granted a certificate of sponsorship under Tier 2 and has started working for their sponsor.  

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