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Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship: Key Points from Data released by UK Visas and Immigration

  • United Kingdom
  • Employment law


The number of Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship available to sponsors has been limited by a quota system since December 2017. Approximately 10,000 requests have been refused to date. Doctors, teachers and engineers are amongst those refused permission to work because of the quota. This has led to considerable debate on how the certificates are allocated.

Simon Kenny of the Eversheds Sutherland immigration team requested data about these applications under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. He received a detailed breakdown of the statistics between December 2017 and April 2018 which provides new insights into the requirements which can assist those who organise recruitment of international staff. The full data table is below.


Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship are confirmation from UK Visas and Immigration that an individual may be employed in the UK. These are limited to 20,700 certificates per year, broken down into monthly allocations. Unrestricted Certificates of Sponsorship, for employees applying within the UK or who earn salaries above £159,600, are not impacted by this quota.

The quota system has existed since 2011 but, until December 2017, the limit was only ever exceeded in one month. Since that month, applications have consistently been in excess of the monthly limit.

Certificates are allocated based on priority criteria determined by UK Visas and Immigration. Applicants whose occupations are considered to be in notable shortage, as determined on a list prepared by UK Visas and Immigration, are issued the most points. Those who need PhDs to do their jobs also receive extra points, likely to be enough to qualify in any given month. Remaining certificates are allocated based on the proposed income of applicants coming to the UK, without any additional consideration of what they will do. This allocation process has led to many sponsors unable to offer such sponsorship.

Key Points from the Data

1. To get a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship, you need to work in a shortage occupation, have a PhD-level role or earn at least £50,000 a year.

The “banding” scores show the distribution of successful scores in these five months. With the exception of the month of December, in which there appear to be some anomalies from the data, almost all successful applications were within those salary bands or for roles requiring a PhD or in shortage.

38% of applicants scored 60 points or more, which has always qualified. Of those applicants, between 15% and 21% of the total scored points because they are either in a PhD-level or shortage occupation list role (it is not possible to identify from the data released whether the 6% of applicants between these numbers also qualify on that basis or earn salaries which score this number of points). Between 17% and 23% of the total earn salaries between £60,000 and £75,000 per year.

Only 15% of applicants have scores of 50 and 55 points and are genuinely uncertain of qualification.


The number of applicants who appear to qualify with salaries of between £50,000 and £70,000 per annum is relatively low compared to the total. Within the present system, a salary at this level provides a good, but not certain prospect, of being issued a Certificate of Sponsorship.

Qualification between December 2017 and March 2018

Issued Certificates of Sponsorship
130 points + 43%
Of which Nurses and SOL 28%
Others/ v high earner 15%
75 points + 24%
Of which PhD 12%
High earners 12%
50-70 points 33%

2. There is a growing number of applications which suggests many refused applicants re- apply.

The number of total applications made grew sharply between December 2017 and April 2018:

December January February March April
Applied 3005 2925 3362 3328 4335
Granted 1915 1542 1717 1372 2207
Refused 1090 1383 1645 1956 2118
Increase in refusal pool 293 262 311 162

An increase of 1,330 applications in this period (23%) is notable. Are the refused applicants simply applying again, in the hope the points requirement goes down? That seems more apparent in some occupations than others. For engineers and doctors, there is evidence of this.

CoS Applications in SOC codes 2121-2129: all engineers

December January February March April
Applied 141 172 191 183 209
Approved 69 67 80 63 79
% success 48 39 41 34 37

It seems more likely that the same engineers refused Certificates are re-applying for two, three or more months in the hope the pressure on the cap will ease, rather than a higher number of new applicants emerging each month. As a consequence of this, and new applicants also failing to meet the threshold, the “refusal pool” grows; in this case from 72 in December to 130 in April.

For doctors at Registrar level and below, who would typically earn annual salaries below £50,000, the data is clearer:

CoS Applications in SOC code 2211: Medical practitioners (Data limited to that for those at Registrar and below)

December January February March April
Applied 362 485 686 600 871
Approved 119 120 255 129 267
% success 33 25 27 22 31

There is evidence here of likely re-application and a steady growth in the pool of refused candidates. Any amendment to the system will need to take account of this large number of potential applicants.

3. Jobs linked to public sector pay or in STEM occupations are especially unlikely to qualify for sponsorship

There are clear examples of applications for jobs in which roles in which pay is linked to public pay bands being unsuccessful. No pharmacists at all were issued a Restricted CoS between November and April (103 applicants, all refused). Amongst primary and secondary school teachers, 262 of 302 applicants have been refused a restricted CoS; all but three of those which were approved fell within the subjects designated as being in shortage.

A trend we have noted from our work is that applicants currently in the UK holding the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa have been especially badly impacted by the quotas. Most of those seeking Tier 2 Certificates from within the UK are able to apply for “unrestricted” certificates and therefore are not impacted by these quotas, but those within the Youth Mobility category are not permitted to do so. This immigration category requires applicants to be under the age of 31 and many applicants appear to take entry-level professional roles in the UK which are skilled but comparatively badly paid. Given the way restricted Certificates of Sponsorship are allocated, this is another group of applicants facing disadvantage within the process.

Which occupations are not impacted? There is no evidence of difficulty regarding roles which appear to clearly fit into the PhD and shortage occupation list are attracting higher scrutiny, or of refusal in higher paid roles. PhD researcher roles have a success rate of over 90%, as do higher education teaching professionals. Paramedics, a role which appears on the shortage occupation list, have almost a 100% success rate.

Notwithstanding the fact that nursing is on the shortage occupation list, there is a relatively high refusal rate of such applications. It suggests possible difficulties with the resident labour market tests being undertaken by employers, which continue to be required of applicants within the nursing classifications.

4. Taking doctors out of the monthly quota may not have a major impact on the scores required to qualify

The suggestions made to date have been to do with exempting some applicants from the monthly Tier 2 cap altogether. These include exempting all doctors who apply, either with or without reducing the number of Certificates available because of that. A further suggestion has been to remove applicants in shortage occupations from the cap.

To assess the impact of either measure, it is necessary to assess who is failing to qualify at present and what their proposed salaries have been to date.

Range of application scores: December 2017 to April 2018

Highest Lowest Mean Additional applicants at this level
30 or less 294 220 257
40 or less 1224 830 1027 770
45 or less 2118 1316 1717 690
50 or less 2474 1453 1964 247
55 or less 1565 2697 2131 167
60 or less 2870 1656 2263 132
Qualifiers 2207 1542 1875
Total applications 4335 2925 3630

 If doctors were removed from the cap altogether, an average of 700 additional spaces for Certificates of Sponsorship would become available each month based on this application data. Based on the number of applications made to date, it would mean applicants with salaries of between £40,000 and £45,000 would again qualify for Certificates of Sponsorship.

Should those doctors who are currently refused Certificates of Sponsorship be automatically exempted from the cap but still counted as “using” the monthly allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship, that would have the opposite effect of driving the points requirement up. Around 470 doctors have been refused certificates on average each month; reducing the number available accordingly would have driven the points requirement for other applicants up to 70, 85 and 65 in the three most recent months.

What can sponsors do?

The policy itself is unlikely to change in the near future, with the possible exception of an exemption of doctors from the quota, which may have a relatively small impact on qualification. It would appear sensible to plan for Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship to be in shortage over at least the next six months. The phenomenon of the “refusal pool” increasing due to re-applications seems to make it unlikely the requirement will drop below 50 points this year without changes to the process. Employers should note the likely score required and plan recruitment accordingly.

We propose employers assess carefully whether any other provisions of the Immigration Rules may allow employees, who might usually need a Certificate of Sponsorship, could allow the work. Tier 1, Tier 5, business visit or looking at any status which may allow personal immigration are all potential options.

It is suggested employers should also contribute to consultation exercises operated by the Migration Advisory Committee to indicate how this shortage impacts them. Some occupations always fail to qualify for restricted Certificates of Sponsorship based on this data. Whether allocations should continue to be made on the basis of salary should, we suggest, be reviewed.

Our data

The tables viewable here show:

  • the number of certificates of sponsorship issued to applicants by SOC code between December 2017 and April 2018; and
  • the scores required to succeed in applications over the same period.

This information was released by UK Visas and Immigration in May 2018 following a request made under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.