Shortage occupation list must be expanded, government told

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The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has called on the government to expand its shortage occupation list (SOL) while MPs warn of 'another Windrush' if EU Settlement Scheme concerns aren't addressed

Alongside some occupations that have been added to the SOL – which now includes vets, web designers and architects – many have been expanded to include all roles within that occupation.

In its review published yesterday (29 May), the MAC recommended broadening the SOL further to include all roles in occupations such as medical practitioners, nurses, programmers and software developers. This recognises the increased difficulty of filling such roles, it said.

If the recommendation goes ahead it could mean the SOL will cover around 9% of jobs in the labour market, compared to 1% under the previous list.

The report’s other recommendations include ‘medium-skilled’ occupations to be part of the SOL in the future and removing the restrictions on chefs’ visas, which currently excludes those offering takeaway services.

The report added that the government should not lower salary thresholds for shortage occupation jobs, but should instead consider increasing salary thresholds where possible to drive up wages and encourage people to apply for these roles. For experienced workers the current salary threshold is £30,000, while new entrants have to meet a salary threshold as low as £20,800 in some occupations.

'If there is a shortage of workers in a particular occupation there should be upward pressure on wages to encourage workers to enter this job. Lowering salary thresholds in response to a perceived shortage would be a move in the wrong direction, exacerbating rather than resolving shortages,' the report noted.

'However, it is possible that for some occupations the salary thresholds are too high to provide any effective upward pressure on wages, because they are essentially out of reach. We do not think that this situation is likely to arise for the high-skilled jobs currently eligible for Tier 2 but could do so if medium-skilled jobs are brought within Tier 2.'

MAC chair and professor of economics at the London School of Economics Alan Manning commented that the report had been adapted to better reflect changes in the job market: “Today’s labour market is very different to the one we reviewed when the last SOL was published in 2013. Unemployment is lower and employers in various industries are facing difficulties in finding skilled people to fill their vacancies.

“That is why we have recommended expanding the SOL to cover a range of occupations in health, information and engineering fields,” he said.

“However, our recommendations are clearly only applicable under the current immigration system, while EU free movement remains. We are recommending a full review of the SOL once there is a clearer picture of what the future immigration system will look like.”

Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, agreed that ending free movement could still present employers with challenges: “Expanding the shortage occupation list will help businesses access the skills they need when they can’t recruit locally. But the ending of free movement will present significant costs and challenges for employers.”

There are currently 34 occupations with 143 job titles on the SOL. The main benefits the list confers are priority in the event of the cap being reached for Tier 2 work visas issued by the Home Office and exemption from the resident labour market test (RLMT).

The cap on skilled worker numbers operates on an annual quota of 20,700, with a fixed number of spaces available each month. The MAC review was commissioned by home secretary Sajid Javid in April last year after the cap was hit.

The Home Office has said it will consider the recommendations and respond in due course.

These recommendations come as MPs have also warned that the government risks another 'Windrush scandal' over EU citizens if it does not fix issues with the EU Settlement Scheme. The Commons Home Affairs Committee said that people who had lived in the UK for years face uncertainty over their right to remain in the UK. It raised ‘serious concerns’ over technical faults with the design of the scheme, with applicants struggling to navigate the online application system at risk of being left out.

The Home Office has said the scheme is ‘performing well’ and that it had ‘taken great care to learn from the experiences of the Windrush generation’.

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