Most Non-EU Lawyers Earn Too Little to Secure U.K. Work Visa

(Bloomberg) -- Most lawyers and accountants from outside the European Union earn too little to secure a U.K. work visa, according to Oxford University research that shows the screws tightening on British firms wanting to hire foreign talent.

More than 80 percent of accountants don’t earn the 60,000 pounds ($85,000) salary needed to secure a Tier 2 visa for skilled workers from outside the EU this month, Oxford’s Migration Observatory said in a report on Thursday. More than 90 percent of teachers, over 60 percent of legal professionals and 30 percent of doctors also fell short of the threshold.

The pressures have come to a head as the number of applicants exceeded the monthly cap. When that happens, the Home Office gives priority to higher earners, forcing the income threshold up from its nominal level of 30,000 pounds for experienced workers, the report said.

“The underlying dynamic is that this issue won’t go away unless there’s a big change in policy such as raising the cap or exempting more professions,” Madeleine Sumption, director of the observatory, said in a phone interview. “It was always likely that we’d get to a point where the cap was being taken up.”

The U.K. has capped the number of Tier 2 visas at 20,700 per year since 2011 as part of efforts to drive down net immigration. In practice, the cap has had little effect, because it was higher than demand. But in March there were more applicants than available certificates of sponsorship for the fourth month in a row, according to Home Office data.

After the cap is reached, a points system means those with higher earnings are prioritized. When it was briefly hit in 2015, an increase in the salary threshold meant nurses were excluded, prompting the government to add them to a "shortage" list of professions exempted from the cap.

“One of the notable consequences of the cap being hit is unpredictability,” Sumption said in a statement. “Before this happened, the 30,000 pound salary threshold was set by the government and known in advance. But once the cap starts to constrain the numbers, the salary an employer needs to pay depends on who else applies, and so will hop around from one month to the next.”

While a decline in net migration from within the EU that followed Britain’s vote to leave in 2016 may lead to an increase in demand for workers from outside the bloc, detailed figures aren’t available to determine whether that’s happening, Sumption said. That’s because calculations of immigration flows between the U.K. and EU are based on surveys that don’t accurately capture the more granular profession-by-profession information needed.

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