4 October 2023

The Shortage Occupation List - On Borrowed Time?

TLT Solicitors


TLT Solicitors
The MAC has made some significant recommendations for change, amid concerns about potential exploitation of foreign workers and undercutting the UK labour market. We explore the key recommendations below.
UK Immigration
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The Migration Advisory Committee's long awaited review of the shortage occupation list has been published.

The MAC has made some significant recommendations for change, amid concerns about potential exploitation of foreign workers and undercutting the UK labour market. We explore the key recommendations below.

What is the shortage occupation list ("SOL")?

The SOL is a list of roles deemed to be in shortage in the UK and where immigration has been assessed as a suitable measure to help tackle those shortages. The current SOL comprises 37 UK-wide occupation codes, one role for Scotland alone and 15 health and education roles based on national pay scales. The current SOL can be found here:

What benefit does the SOL currently bring for employers?

The SOL is intended to help employers plug gaps in the UK labour market with foreign workers with more ease.

With the exception of Care Workers and Home Carers, all roles on the SOL are already eligible for skilled worker visas (the primary route for foreign nationals to work in the UK). Care Workers and Home Carers only qualify for such visas by virtue of being on the SOL.

The key benefit of the SOL is financial. SOL roles benefit from discounted salary requirements. Unless other tradeable points apply (e.g. for eligible student visa holders switching to a skilled worker visa), to qualify for a skilled worker visa a role must be paid £26,200 per annum or the going rate for the particular occupation, whichever is higher. Roles on the SOL have a reduced salary threshold of £20,960 per annum of 80% of the applicable going rate, whichever is higher.

The additional financial benefit is slightly lower visa fees. For example, a skilled worker visa application for up to 3 years submitted in the UK costs £827 and that increase to £1,500 for a visa in excess of 3 years. Where the role is on the SOL those costs drop to £551 and £1,084. Even lower fees apply for those applying or health and care visas.

What SOL changes has the MAC recommended?

1. Removal of going rate discount

The MAC has recommended removing the going rate discount. This means, SOL roles would have to be paid £20,960 per annum or the full going rate for the role, whichever is higher.

2. A significant shorter SOL

The MAC recommends a reduced list of 8 UK-wide roles and 2 Scotland-specific roles:

  • Scotland
    • Managers and proprietors in forestry, fishing and related services ("fishing boat masters" only)
    • Boat and ship builders and repairers
  • UK-wide
    • Laboratory technicians (only those with 3+ years full-time experience – new limitation)
    • Pharmaceutical technicians
    • Bricklayers and masons
    • Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
    • Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified (only "retrofitters" – new limitation)
    • Animal care services occupations not elsewhere classified ("racing grooms", "stallion handlers", "stud grooms", "stud hands", "stud handlers" and "work riders" only)
    • Care workers and home carers
    • Senior care workers

Those in bold are on the current SOL already.

This recommended list doesn't include any wins for sectors that have been particularly hit by Brexit and COVID-19, such as hospitality, retail and manufacturing.

Notably, this list does not include all of the construction and fishing roles added to the SOL earlier in July 2023. Further, many roles our clients frequently sponsor in do not feature on the recommended SOL. For example: biochemists; civil mechanical, electrical and electronics engineers; programmers and software development professionals; veterinarians. Whilst such roles will often meet the going rate for the role without requiring a discount, that is not always the case. If the SOL is amended as recommended such roles will still qualify for skilled worker visas but will have to meet the undiscounted salary requirements unless other tradeable points are available. Also, visa applicants (or employers who meet the visa costs) will face increased visa fees when recruiting foreign nationals into such roles.

Much of the justification for such a radically reduced SOL is the recommended removal of the going rate discount. If implemented, any role with a going rate above the general threshold would no longer see any benefit to inclusion on the SOL.

3. Re-branding

The MAC has suggested the SOL be renamed the "Immigration Salary Discount List".

4. Abolishing the SOL

Overall, the MAC does not think the SOL serves its purpose of addressing labour shortages and so it has recommended it is eventually abolished altogether or heavily reformed.

What else has the MAC suggested?

Some other key recommendations of note are:

  • Youth Mobility Scheme: Exploration of expanding the youth mobility scheme. It seems many stakeholders that contributed to the MAC's consultation suggested this may alleviate some of their recruitment challenges.
  • Creative Workers: Removal of the resident labour market test requirement for creative worker visas and the introduction of a minimum salary threshold, to avoid the route being used to pay lower salaries than required for the same roles under the skilled worker route.
  • Asylum Seekers: Easing work restrictions applied to asylum seekers. Those whose asylum application has been pending for at least 12 months are permitted to work in the UK, but only in roles on the SOL. The MAC recommends they are not restricted to SOL roles and instead permitted to work in any role or at least roles eligible for skilled worker visas.
  • Hospitality: Sommeliers be reclassified to RQF3 and so qualify for skilled worker visas (for those with 3 years + experience). They have not been recommended for inclusion on the SOL though.

Key takeaways

  • It remains to be seen what recommendations, if any, the Government will implement. It is likely the SOL will be much reduced and may indeed be abolished altogether.
  • If the SOL is maintained, the MAC intends to do a further minor review of it in Spring 2024. It has made clear that, unless instructed otherwise by the Government, it will not reconsider ineligible lower-skilled roles for inclusion on the SOL at that point.
  • If maintained, the SOL should be viewed as a temporary solution– other steps must be taken by affected employers and sectors to alleviate shortages. On reviewing the MAC report, its assessment of individual roles for inclusion on the SOL reveals the importance of affected sectors having longer-term recruitment plans and strategies. Employers and sectors seeking expansion of the SOL in the future will have to provide specific evidence and information for individual roles in order to persuade the MAC to recommend their inclusion. The MAC are also likely to expect evidence of steps taken and planned to attract resident workers to those roles. The focus on improving terms and conditions, grass roots recruitment and enhancing the pipeline of talent in the UK is likely to continue. Those keen to contribute to future consultations would be advised to review the MAC report, to ensure submissions are sufficiently detailed and persuasive. Further, the MAC will not consider roles for inclusion on the MAC if no submissions are received in respect of such roles.

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.

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