News & Insights

Scrapping the Shortage Occupation List?

In an unexpected turn of events, the Migrant Advisory Committee have recommended abolishing the Shortage Occupation List – what might this mean for employers?

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) sets out jobs in industries suffering from a labour shortage in the UK. If an occupation code is included on the SOL, then a worker applying for a Skilled Worker visa using that occupation code will benefit from reduced visa application fees. The worker’s employer will also benefit, via reduced minimum salary requirements, normally at 80% of the occupation code’s ordinary going rate. These reduced immigration costs are meant to incentivise the recruitment of skilled migrant workers to fill labour shortages in the UK.

In August, we published an article addressing the expansion of the SOL to include jobs in construction and fishing. This expansion of the SOL followed a review by the Migrant Advisory Committee (MAC), who recommended that labour shortages in construction and fishing could sensibly be addressed, at least in part, by increased immigration. This indicated a willingness on the part of the MAC to expand the scope of the SOL in order to combat UK labour shortages and suggested that further expansion might take place in industries such as hospitality and retail, which are widely reported as experiencing such shortages.

However, in an unexpected turn of events, the MAC has now recommended that the SOL be scrapped entirely. In a review published on Tuesday 3 October 2023, the MAC stated that the SOL should never have been anything more than a temporary solution to labour shortages, and that improved training, work conditions and career progression were the only viable long-term solutions to the UK’s skills shortages. “We are not convinced that the SOL is an effective tool to address labour shortages across different occupations and sectors,” said Brian Bell, chair of the MAC.

The MAC also argued that the SOL allows for employers to drive down wages and undercut local workers by paying migrant workers the reduced minimum salaries referred to above, while also making migrants dependant on the employers sponsoring them, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation – although the latter point would seem to apply to any Skilled Worker migrant, whose continued stay in the UK is conditional on their continued employment with, and sponsorship by, their sponsoring employer.

As an alternative to the SOL, the MAC has suggested that it conduct reviews of individual sectors or job roles suffering from shortages and come up with tailored immigration solutions for each. Such solutions might include alternative immigration routes or visas, or changes to pay and training requirements. The MAC might even consider removing the Immigration Skills Charge for some jobs or industries, which currently presents a substantial barrier to the hiring of Skilled Workers – some employers must pay as much as £1,000 a year towards this Skills Charge for each Skilled Worker migrant they employ.

Currently, care and senior care workers are included on the SOL and have the added benefit of the usual skills criteria being waived, in order to allow for urgent vacancies in the care sector to be filled. The MAC did clarify that, regardless of what happens to the SOL, care and senior care workers should continue to receive this special treatment, given the particularly significant shortages in the UK’s care sector. From January 2023 to June 2023, care and senior care workers together accounted for half of all Skilled Worker visas, demonstrating the care industry’s desperate need for more of these workers. However, the MAC did also flag up their concerns about serious exploitation issues within the care sector, which may flow from the reduced wages and absence of skills requirements for care and senior care workers on Skilled Worker visas.

It remains to be seen whether the MAC’s recommendations will be implemented, and, if so, in what form, but we will keep you posted.

If you require any assistance with obtaining a sponsor licence or sponsoring a worker, please get in touch at [email protected]