Migration Advisory Committee recommends changes to Shortage Occupation List

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recently published its review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) for the UK for 2020. However, the Government has announced that it does not consider changes to the SOL should be made at this time, before assessing how the UK labour market develops post-Covid 19 and in response to the introduction of the new points-based immigration system. Therefore, the Government will likely consider these recommendations post 1 January 2021, and make changes via amendments to the Immigration Rules. 

What is the Shortage Occupation List?

The Shortage Occupation List is a list of skilled roles where employers find it problematic to secure adequate numbers of workers with the required skills to fill their vacancies. In addition, it is judged that migration is a sensible response to those skilled roles in shortage.

Why is the Shortage Occupation List important?

The main purpose of the SOL will be different under the UK's new immigration system.

At present, any skilled role on the SOL is exempt from having to complete a Resident Labour Market Test (which saves significant time) and prioritised if the Tier 2 (General) limit of 20,700 is reached.

However, from 1 January 2021, the Resident Labour Market Test is being removed and the cap on skilled workers is being suspended. Therefore, the SOL will no longer enable sponsors to hire people faster, but will instead allow sponsors to pay migrants less: the higher of £25,600 or the going rate for the occupation will not have to be met for roles on the SOL. Instead, migrants whose job falls under the SOL must be paid at least £20,480 or 80% of the going rate for their occupation, whichever is higher. 

Has the MAC recommended anything stays the same?

Yes. The MAC has recommended that shortage occupations at RQF Level 6 or above (i.e. degree level or equivalent) remain under the SOL for the time being.

Has the MAC recommended that any roles be removed from the SOL?

Yes. The MAC have proposed that chefs are removed from the SOL. This is likely due to the impact on the hospitality sector of the Covid-19 pandemic. If this recommendation is accepted by the Home Office, to be eligible for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route, sponsors will have to pay a chef at least £25,600. The MAC are going to review this position in their 2021 report.

Which roles have been suggested to be added to the Shortage Occupation List?

Unsurprisingly, the MAC have recommended around 70 new occupations and job titles should be included under the SOL. The new Skilled Worker route allows occupations to be sponsored at the reduced RQF Level 3 (i.e. A level or equivalent) so the MAC recommendations propose a significant expansion from the scope of the current list, which covers around 9% of total employment. If the inclusions are accepted, the scope of the SOL will cover around 14% of total employment.

New proposed occupations include butchers, welders, senior care workers, pharmacists, electricians, veterinary nurses, physiotherapists and mechanics (separate recommendations have been made for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are not covered in this article).

How have the MAC arrived at their recommendations?

It was back in March 2020, before the pandemic took hold, that the MAC were asked by the Home Secretary to review what occupations should be recognised under the SOL for the purposes of sponsorship under the new Skilled Worker category of the new points-based immigration system.

As usual, the MAC gave employers the opportunity to submit information and data on their recent recruitment habits and future plans, to help assess the UK job market. However, the MAC's call for evidence did not prompt the usual number of responses (558 in 2019 compared to 200 in 2020) which is likely to have been caused by the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, the MAC have very sensibly considered the impact on the labour market by the Covid-19 pandemic, when considering their recommendations.

Have there been any specific recommendations for health/social care workers?

Yes. The MAC has acknowledged that the end of free movement, from 1 January 2021, will place significant pressure on the social care sector if wage increases are not forthcoming. The MAC have therefore recommended that "senior" care workers, nursing assistants and a range of other health occupations should be recognised on the SOL. The definition of a "senior" carer will be dependant on a migrant's duties and responsibilities and such ambiguity could lead to compliance pitfalls if the Home Office do not agree with the sponsors interpretation.

What happens next?

The Government are in the process of considering the MAC recommendations. However, it's clear that any future changes to the SOL won't be imminent, as previously expected. This will be frustrating news for sponsors, as they will remain reliant on the current SOL, which does not take into account the jobs under the lower skilled threshold of RQF level 3 or above. In summary, the 70 new occupations proposed to be added to the SOL by the MAC, will need to be paid £25,600 or the going rate, whichever is higher, whilst the Government ponders the recommendations proposed.  

When will the Shortage Occupation List be reviewed again?

Sponsors should be celebrating the fact that the MAC have suggested a more structured, regular review of the SOL moving forwards. To date, reviews have been ad-hoc, meaning that the SOL becomes outdated and sponsors have no expectation on when change to the SOL may occur.

The MAC have therefore stated that they would like to complete a minor review annually (starting in August 2021), where new occupations could be added and occupations 'at risk' flagged, but none would be removed. A major review would occur every three years.

If you would like to discuss becoming a sponsor or any other aspect of this article, please get in touch.

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