Pat Saini

Tier 2 Cap and its impact on the Life Sciences sector
by Pat Saini


A new "sector deal" for life sciences was announced as part of the Industrial Strategy White Paper published by the UK government in November 2017, with further details of the sector deal published on 6 December 2017. The sector deal followed the publication of the government-commissioned industrial strategy report, authored by Professor Sir John Bell, which put forward recommendations to government for promoting the sector's long-term success.

The deal included:

Skills base: The deal highlights the need to ensure a highly-skilled workforce through measures to support high-skilled immigration as well as support for the industry's investment in the UK's domestic skills base.

It is clear that the Life Sciences sector like many other sectors suffers a skills shortage. Whilst the government and private practice implement strategies to upskill the UK workforce, companies including those within the Life Sciences sector need to compete on a global platform.

The Tier 2 visa enables UK employers to employ skilled workers from outside of the European Economic Area. There is an annual limit of 20,700 restricted Tier 2 (General) Certificates of Sponsorship visas that can be issued each year. This is broken down into monthly allocations. The cap was introduced in 2011, following advice from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

The cap has now been hit for the 5th month running. Which means employers, including those within the Life Sciences sector have not been able to recruit skilled migrants from outside the EEA to fill vacancies, which they have otherwise not been able to fill. What this means in practice is that where an employer has for example advertised the role as per Home Office requirements and offered at least the minimum salary required to be paid for a particular role, they have been unable to obtain the relevant visa for the non-EEA national they needed to hire.

Answering questions in the House of Commons last month, the Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes effectively dismissed calls to raise the cap, stating that the process was “under review”.

It enables the Government to control migration and encourages employers to look first to the domestic workforce before recruiting from overseas. The Government are clear that carefully controlled economic migration benefits the economy, but we remain committed to reducing migration and protecting the jobs of British workers. We keep all immigration routes under review to ensure that the system serves the national interest.

Tier 2 can be a lengthy and bureaucratic process and for start-ups it can often be expensive. However, with the cap continuing to be reached, and the process still “under review” the sector needs to look for other solutions.

As chair of Tech London Advocates (TLA) immigration and talent working party, last month I hosted an event entitled immigration options for tech companies and tech entrepreneurs. Those who registered for the event were asked to answer one simple question “how is the UK’s immigration system impacting you as a tech business or tech entrepreneur?” and businesses reported;

costs are increasing

slower customer decisions on expansion plans

as EU nationals increasingly seem discouraged from moving to the UK, we are contemplating opening an office in Europe

as costs increase and the Tier 2 cap is being reached we are looking to hire people outside the UK

EU nationals who would have previously applied for tech roles have decreased/quality of applicant has decreased. We are therefore having to turn to Tier 2

we have been waiting three months for a CoS to be approved, we either carry on waiting or hire the person in their home country

we have no problems recruiting in Lisbon, we are contemplating moving our headquarters there

Not all Life Science’s companies will be able to set up offices in Europe or employ people in their home countries.

What steps should life sciences companies take?

The Government is yet to announce any changes to the annual Tier 2 limit. In the meantime life sciences companies will need to consider other immigration routes for those they need to hire, these may include:

  • Tier 1 Exceptional talent – those who are world leaders or emerging leaders in the fields of science, engineering, digital technology, humanities, medicine or the arts can apply for an endorsement. Once endorsed those that hold a visa under Tier 1 Exceptional Talent do not require sponsorship to take up employment in the UK.
  • EEA workers and their dependents – EEA nationals and their dependants are still allowed to come to the UK and take up employment
  • Family routes – Those that are in the UK under a spouse/unmarried partner visa are allowed to take employment without the need to be sponsored by a company.
  • Tier 5 temporary work visas – for short term supernumerary positions
  • Tier 4 students with work rights – for short term temporary positions.


For further information, please contact Pat Saini.