On 24 August 2022 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was commissioned to review the shortage occupation list (SOL) for sponsoring skilled workers. The MAC is expected to make a call for evidence to employers and other stakeholders over the coming months, with their recommendations due to be incorporated into Immigration Rules sometime from Autumn 2023.

The UK Shortage Occupation List (SOL) is the official list of the skilled occupations that the Government accepts currently face staff shortages in the UK. When employers recruit foreign nationals for a role listed on the SOL, they benefit from certain relaxations of the normal Skilled Worker visa requirements aimed at making it easier to fill those shortages.

The commissioning letter to the MAC was published on 1 September 2022 here. The MAC's response can be found here.

What has the MAC been asked to report on?

The MAC has been asked to consider three main issues:

  • The salary requirement: Currently, the salary requirement for jobs included on the SOL is the higher of either the going rate for the job, less a 20% discount, or £20,480 (subject to an absolute minimum of £10.10 per hour). The MAC has been asked to report on whether the 20% discount to the going rate should be removed. This would mean that the going rate for jobs on the SOL would be in line with those not on the SOL and the 20% reduction would only apply to the general salary threshold for sponsoring a Skilled Worker (from £25,600 to £20,480).
  • The existing SOL jobs: the MAC has been asked to review all the jobs and consider whether they still fulfil the requirements to remain on the SOL. The reason given for this is that being on the SOL should only be a time-bound strategy to address labour shortages rather than having sectors permanently relying on migration, which could make labour shortages entrenched.
  • Adding new jobs to the SOL: The MAC has also been asked to consider whether any other roles should now be added to the SOL. Again, this has been caveated to ensure that the MAC considers alternatives to migration first to avoid the SOL being the first port of call for employers seeking to fill labour shortages instead of investing in addressing the issues that cause the shortages in their sectors, such as lack of career progression or training opportunities for domestic workers. The MAC has been asked to specify which roles it recommends adding at Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 (i.e. degree level equivalent) and/or RQF levels 3-5 (i.e. A-level and above). The commissioning letter cautions against recommending roles below RQF level 3. Currently, the only role below RQF 3 on the SOL is Care workers and home carers in the Health and Care Sector; this was added due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic. The letter makes it clear that the Government will only entertain including any other role below RQF 3 if it accepts there are truly exceptional circumstances for doing so.

What are the timelines for the review?

The MAC has been asked to report back by the end of March 2023 with a view to implementing any changes in Autumn 2023. It has also been asked to base its recommendations on the more recent 2020 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code system if possible, moving away from the 2010 system, which is now out of date.

The MAC has accepted the commission; however, there are currently issues with how some of the new SOC 2020 occupational codes have been applied to the datasets the MAC would use to inform its recommendations on the SOL. The MAC has suggested two alternatives:

  • To commence the review now using SOC 2010; this would mean that the occupational classification data would be out of date. The MAC views this as being problematic as the labour market has changed significantly as pandemic-related restrictions have fallen away; or
  • To delay the start of the review until the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has investigated the data issue that has been identified with SOC 2020 and has provided an update on its resolution. The MAC could then decide on whether to commence the commission once the issues are fully resolved, or to proceed using the SOC 2010 system. The MAC considers this alternative is preferable as it would provide the potential for more recent labour market data to be used in the review.

It seems, therefore, unlikely that the SOL review will be ready by the end of March 2023 and that any changes will be ready to be implemented in the October 2023 updates. Depending on which option is agreed on, the MAC has asked for more time but intends to report back as close to Spring 2023 as possible.

The MAC also intends to respond to the rest of the issues raised in the commissioning letter closer to the launch of their Call for Evidence.

What should employers consider in light of the review?

Employers should start considering how to engage with MAC's Call for Evidence.

  • If there are jobs that that they think should be added to the SOL, employers should start preparing the relevant evidence to show the shortage in resident labour and the need for migrant workers. The evidence should also provide details of the employer's medium to long-term strategy to address the shortage outside of relying on the immigration system.
  • If there are jobs already on the SOL that employers think should not be removed, they should start preparing evidence to put to the MAC to show why the need for migrant workers continues and how keeping these jobs in the SOL fits in their strategy to address the shortage outside of relying on the immigration system.

If the MAC recommends scrapping the 20% reduction of the going rate for SOL jobs and this recommendation is adopted, employers will potentially have to increase salaries to comply with 100% of the going rate for each SOL job (or the SOL salary threshold, whichever is higher). Therefore, employers should plan for the possibility of this happening in the next couple of years, depending on when the MAC recommendations are released.

We are holding our next Immigration Law Academy on 9 and 10 November 2022, which will include detailed training on the Skilled Worker route. For further information and to book, click here. If you have any specific queries about the SOL review or the Skilled Worker visa, please get in touch with a member of our Immigration Team.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.