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Home Office FOI reveals scale of skilled worker refusals due to visa cap

16 May 2018

Comment from CaSE and others on FOI response from the Home Office detailing the number of Tier 2 refusals due to the annual cap in each month between December 2017 and March 2018. 

The figures reveal that since December, the Government have refused over 6,000 applications for skilled overseas workers holding a job offer due to an arbitrary cap on visas, including engineers, tech professionals, doctors and teachers.

This means hundreds of critical roles across the economy are going unfilled damaging productivity, public services, business confidence and the UK’s international reputation. Of the 6,080 total refusals, 3,500 were for engineering, IT, technology, STEM teaching and medical roles.

Commenting, CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said:

“These figures show the scale of the problem and the urgency to find a solution. Across the country, businesses and public services are being blocked at the last hurdle from recruiting the people they need, including in health, engineering and tech, due to the visa cap. This leaves employers frustrated and the public poorly served.”

Employers need a predictable immigration system. The Tier 2 cap increases uncertainty. Thousands of critical roles are going unfilled, damaging productivity. These rejections send a damaging message that the UK is not open to the ‘brightest and best’ across the world. All the while, the UK public support immigration of skilled workers, and scientists and engineers in particular. To rebuild confidence in the short term and ensure the UK immigration system is fit for the future, the Government should exempt roles on the Shortage Occupation List and PhD level roles from the Tier 2 cap in the upcoming visa rule change, and no such arbitrary cap on skilled workers should be implemented in any future system.

Commenting on the short and long-term solution, CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said: 

“The cap is beginning to cause damage and it needs to be addressed quickly. In the immediate term, shortage and PhD level roles should be made exempt from the cap. This would be in line with the priority already afforded to these roles and would create the headroom for other vital roles.”

“In the long term, an immigration system for a Global Britain that supports research and innovation should not feature a cap on the international specialists we want to attract.”

In 2015 the cap was reached and the Home Office provided the refusal figures by standard occupational code when requested in response to a Parliamentary Question. Since December 2017 similar questions have been tabled but the figures have not been provided. 

Commenting on transparency, CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main said:

“It is concerning that the Government have seemed reluctant to release this data, when they did so promptly in 2015. Transparency and accountability with the public and with Parliament is critical to inform the debate on migration and future policy decisions.”


Paul Blomfield (Labour MP for Sheffield Central and Shadow Minister for Exiting the EU) said:

“Sheffield tech companies have told me how the Tier 2 cap is holding them back. The Home Office repeatedly refused to provide information on its impact in response to numerous written parliamentary questions that I tabled. Now it’s clear why. In IT, medicine, science and engineering the Tier 2 cap is holding back companies, universities and the NHS. It shouldn’t have taken an FOI request to force out the information. As we head towards Brexit, we need an open and honest debate around migration policy. This information could have been published a lot earlier and at less public expense if the Home Office had just answered my written questions in the first place.”

Layla Moran MP (Liberal Democrat MP and science spokesperson) said:

“These figures are truly shocking. These are people that that the Government should be bending over backwards to welcome to the UK – instead they are being denied visas for vital roles in our NHS, schools, universities, science and tech sectors.

“These are some of the most saleable people in the jobs market who can and will go elsewhere if the Government doesnt get a grip and sort this situation out as a matter of urgency.”

Stuart McDonald (SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and SNP Immigration Spokesperson) said:

“The SNP has repeatedly called for the Tier 2 cap to be scrapped because of the harm it is causing to businesses, the economy and key public services that are seeking to recruit important skilled staff. This new information makes that call even more urgent – thousands of crucial posts including doctors, teachers, engineers and IT workers are being left unfilled because of the government’s obsession with the cap and the net migration target that motivated it.”

“It is possible the scale of the problem is even worse, as some employers will have simply given up on making applications under Tier 2, knowing full well they had no realistic chance of success. The Home Office has once again been asleep at the wheel – it must now urgently scrap the cap.”

Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) Director, Andy Furlong, said:

“Chemical engineering is a global activity, which relies on free trade and the free movement of talent. Chemical engineers are working on solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges in energy, healthcare, and securing safe and sustainable supplies of food and water. The uncertainty brought about by arbitrary caps creates blockages in the talent pipeline, which stifle innovation, collaboration and productivity This holds our community back. IChemE is fully supportive of the stance taken by CaSE and calls for an urgent rethink of the Tier 2 arrangements.”

Rosemary Cook, Chief Executive, Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM), said:

“Tier 2 visas are essential to fill roles in the medical physics workforce, where up to 10% of posts are regularly vacant, and are hard to fill from the UK where  training commissions do not match demand. We are concerned that people with the skills we need are being refused Tier 2 visas because of the imposition of this cap.”

Peter Finegold, Head of Education, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“The UK’s future prosperity is reliant on having the right people with the right set of skills. The revelation that skilled engineers are not being allowed into the UK as a result of the ‘blunt instrument’ of a visa cap, will raise real concerns for large engineering employers and small businesses alike. While political debate surrounding Brexit focuses on speculation around international trade agreements, our doctrinaire immigration policy appears to ignore the fact that our national economy will suffer most if we cannot recruit enough technically skilled workers to meet demand.”      

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association Council Chair, said:

“These figures further highlight just how concerning it is that we are turning doctors away when the NHS is under such pressure.”

“The Tier-2 visa quota has been reached for the fifth month in a row, yet there are still more than 100,000 NHS posts unfilled, with vacancy rates rising.”

“At a time when the NHS is under enormous strain and struggling to fill positions, the current visa restrictions and arbitrary caps for non-EU workers entering the UK are inexplicable and threatening patient care and safety.”

“Delivering a more flexible immigration system which enables NHS recruitment is an easy win for the government and will have both long-term and immediate benefits for future prosperity of the NHS.”

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, commented:

“These figures clearly indicate that we have reached a crisis point that requires immediate action. The need for reform has never been as urgent and the private sector must now work more closely than ever with government leaders to ensure there is an understanding of the impact the shortage of skills is having on the tech sector. It is vital that the two parties come together to guarantee that businesses have the access to talent that is critical for success.” 

“The current Tier 2 Visa cap and salary restrictions inevitably hit the UK’s tech community the hardest and this is also where we see a worrying lack of government engagement. If Britain is to remain a leading global destination to build and grow the businesses of tomorrow, we must have a revamp of the visa system that accurately reflects the requirements of UK firms.”

Joanna Cox, Head of Strategic Engagement and Policy, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), said:

“Engineering and technology companies across all sectors are reporting that the skills shortages are damaging their ability to achieve their business objectives” Source: 2017 IET Skills Survey

For further breakdown and analysis of the FOI numbers see:


  • Between December 2017 and March 2018, 6080 Tier 2 (General) Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) were refused due the number of applications exceeding the cap imposed by the Government (the annual cap is 20,700 with a specific allocation set for each month).
  • Of all eligible applications for a Tier 2 (General) CoS: in December 36% were refused; in January 47% were refused; in February 48% were refused; in March 59% were refused.
  • Within the 6080 eligible applications refused a CoS due to the annual cap, were:

412 Engineering roles 
1226 IT & Technology roles 
197 Teacher roles (9 STEM teachers)
1518 Doctor roles
362 Other healthcare professional roles 
1815 Professional services
550 All other professions

This figure of 6080 is the number of applications that were refused, not the number of individuals affected as an employer could reapply the following month for a CoS for the same role.

Full set of data


  • The Government policy of an annual cap on Tier 2 (General) visas was introduced in 2011. Before December 2017 the cap had only been breached once, June 2015, when 66 engineering roles were refused.
  • The Government holds a Shortage Occupation List. Three quarters of these are in science, technology, engineering or medicine.  
  • This recommendation is taken from CaSE’s recent immigration report, which calls on the government to rebuild confidence in the short term (amending visa rules, improving immigration messaging and providing confidence during the Brexit transition), and create a streamlined system in the long term that supports research and innovation.
  • In March, CaSE published a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on the government to take urgent action in revising current immigration policy to better attract international research and innovation talent. The letter was supported by over 40 organisations from across business, universities, ​professional institutes, and research charities:
  • To mark the anniversary of the triggering of article 50, CaSE has published a new Brexit report with policy asks from the science and engineering sector on people, funding and regulation:

Further coverage: BBC News