The Migration Advice Committee (“MAC”) has released its much-anticipated review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). This is the first review that has been conducted since September 2020, the end of EU-UK free movement and the COVID-19 pandemic. It contains detailed mapping of occupations and employment in the UK to make recommendations about the future of the SOL, including how and if it should continue to be used in 2024.
The MAC provides independent advice and recommendations to the government. As a result, recommendations in the report must be approved by Ministers. The MAC is highly influential, and the government has historically accepted many of their recommendations, so the report gives a good insight into what might be on the agenda for work-related migration in 2024.
What is the Shortage Occupation List?
The Shortage Occupation List is the official List of ‘skilled’ occupations that have been assessed by the MAC to be in shortage in the UK; a shortage that can be reasonably addressed through recruiting skilled overseas workers. Occupations that are currently affected by the SOL include some health and care occupations, IT, and tech roles.
Skilled Worker visa applicants and sponsors can benefit from employing overseas workers in roles from the SOL. Visa application fees are reduced by around 30%, there is a lower salary threshold, and the market rate for roles are also reduced by 20%.
What’s next for the Shortage Occupation List?
The MAC recommended that the SOL be abolished completely. Failing that, they have suggested it be limited to only a handful of occupations. In this case, the 8 occupations they recommend remaining on the list are:
- Laboratory technicians
- Pharmaceutical technicians
- Bricklayers and masons
- Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
- Construction and building trades
- Animal care service occupations
- Care workers and home carers
- Senior care workers
The rationale for the abolition or significant reduction in the list derives from concerns over pay and exploitation. The relationship between exploitation and low pay becomes particularly concerning where an overseas worker is bound to their employer through visa sponsorship.
The government has so far failed to properly address and plan for the shortage of workers in the care sector and consequently, despite the evidence of growing exploitation, they have kept some roles in the new list. The MAC will provide further comments on the use of the immigration system by care work occupations, and the health and social care sector more broadly in their 2023 Annual Report in December.
What would be the alternative to the Shortage Occupation List?
The MAC has suggested that preferential immigration treatment should be determined on a sector-by-sector basis, and they have provided examples for how this could happen. Expanding the Youth Mobility Scheme visa categories could assist labour shortages in sectors such as hospitality; preferential access to the Skilled Worker visa route could be offered, as could changes to salary and working condition requirements, and increasing investments in training, education, and technology.
The end of the SOL would also affect those waiting for a decision on an asylum application who apply for permission to work in the meantime. Currently, they are restricted to working in roles on the SOL. The MAC has recommended that these individuals should have the opportunity to work in any role in the UK.
What else should we consider as a business?
The standard occupation codes may also be amended to SCO2020 in 2024 (we should know more on this by January 2024). If this is the case, some occupation codes used in immigration applications may be different. At the time the updated codes are released we will confirm where amendments have been made. We encourage employers to take the following actions:
- To reach out to their Magrath Sheldrick LLP contact at the time they are considering offering a job to an individual needing sponsorship if they are concerned about whether the role is suitable for sponsorship, and whether the salary meets the minimum requirements for that occupation.
- If the government take up the MAC’s recommendations, to consider engaging in strategic planning and exploring other potential immigration pathways, where applicable, as they look to recruit staff moving forward.
Please get in touch with your Magrath Sheldrick LLP representative or email us at [email protected] if you have any concerns or questions about the implications of this report.