MAC Recommends Reforms of UK Shortage Occupation List

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The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its latest review of the UK’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

The review was originally commissioned in August 2022 and covers information from the MAC’s own research as well as input from wider stakeholder engagement through its Call for Evidence.

In the report, published on 3 October 2023, the MAC puts forward specific recommendations, including removal of the going rate discount and the addition of certain occupations to the SOL.

The report also raises fundamental questions for the government about the future role of the Shortage Occupation List within the UK immigration system.

The key findings and recommendations of the report are as follows:

 

Going rate discount removal

The MAC has made a strong recommendation that the SOL going rate discount be removed.

Currently, sponsors hiring for a shortage occupation can pay a discounted going rate of 80% of the full rate, or the SOL general threshold of £20,960, whichever is highest.

The MAC states that the going rate is “designed to prevent undercutting of resident workers and to prevent exploitation of migrants”, and as such, “there is no good reason why such protections should be waived when an occupation is experiencing shortage”.

It goes on to recommend that SOL occupations should continue to receive a discount on the £26,200 general threshold where applicable, with the minimum payable wage to remain at £20,960. This would also mean that occupations with a going rate that is lower than the general threshold of £26,200, but above the minimum SOL threshold of £20,960, will only see their salary threshold reduced to the going rate.

According to the MAC, the government has accepted this recommendation, meaning any occupation with a going rate above the general threshold of £26,200 will no longer be eligible for the SOL since any benefits of inclusion would be negligible.

Other going rate discounts, such as for new entrants, will continue to apply.

 

Exclusion of occupations on national payscale

The MAC has also recommended the removal from the SOL of all occupations that are on a national payscale, alongside those where the going rate exceeds the general threshold.

This issued had been previously addressed by the MAC in its 2021 report, although in this latest report, the MAC states that the exclusion does not indicate these occupations are not in shortage in the UK, but instead that inclusion on the SOL is not considered to be beneficial in addressing these shortages.

 

Recommended additions to the Shortage Occupation List

 

UK-wide recommended additions to the Shortage Occupation List

SOC code Occupation  RQF level  SOL  Conditions 
3111

Laboratory technicians

3-5 UK-wide

Add only Laboratory technicians

with 3 or more years’ full-time experience

3217

Pharmaceutical technicians

3-5 UK-wide
5312

Bricklayers and masons

3-5 UK-wide
5313

Roofers, roof tilers and slaters

3-5 UK-wide
5319

Construction and building trades n.e.c.

3-5 UK-wide

Add only job title “retrofitters” on the SOL

6139

Animal care services occupations n.e.c.

3-5 UK-wide

Add only job titles “racing grooms”, “stallion handlers”, “stud grooms”, “stud hands”, “stud handlers” and “work riders”

6145

Care workers and home carers

1-2 UK-wide

Private households or individuals (other than sole traders sponsoring someone to work for their business) cannot sponsor SW applicants

6146

Senior care workers

3-5 UK-wide

 

 

 

Scotland-only recommended additions to the Shortage Occupation List

SOC code Occupation  RQF level  SOL  Conditions 

1213

Managers and proprietors in forestry, fishing and related

services

3-5 Scotland only

Add only job title “fishing boat masters”

5236

Boat and ship builders and repairers

3-5 Scotland only

 

There are no recommendations in this review for additional roles to be added to the Northern Ireland or Wales-only SOLs.

 

Care workers remain on SOL

Care workers and senior care workers had initially been added to the SOL on a temporary basis. The review recommends that these roles remain on the shortage occupation list.

 

Additional recommendations

Further specific recommendations include: amending the sponsorship rules for the Creative Worker visa to remove the reference to the SOL and instead allow employers to sponsor any occupation that is currently eligible for the Skilled Worker route without having to perform a resident labour market test; and allowing asylum seekers who have been granted the right to work in the UK to work in any job, or as a minimum any job eligible in the Skilled Worker route, as opposed to limiting their eligibility only to roles on the SOL.

 

The future role of the SOL

Most radically, the MAC has recommended to the government that the “SOL is either abolished or heavily reformed”. This includes questions over whether the government wants the route to include any low-wage RQF+ jobs, given that this can increase the risk of exploitation of migrant workers, and that “low-wage migrants are less likely to make a positive net fiscal contribution and so some burden will likely fall on the taxpayer”.

It goes on to state that if the government does oppose allowing low-wage employers to pay below the general threshold for the Skilled Worker route, then it recommends that the government should either abolish the SOL or heavily reform it to address this issue.

As an alternative to the SOL, the MAC suggests being commissioned to conduct discrete sector reviews of the role of immigration within specific individual industries.

Should the government opt to retain the SOL, the MAC suggests “it would be more appropriate for shortage to be assessed on a cross-departmental basis with a wider skills and training lens, from which we would then consider a subset of occupations where it is sensible to fill shortages through migration. We envisage this as being similar to the methodology used to determine shortage as part of reviewing Australia’s Skills Priority List (SPL)”.

 

Change of SOL Name

The MAC also recommends that the name of the SOL is changed to the ‘Immigration Salary Discount List’ (ISDL) on the basis that this is a more accurate reflection of its purpose.

Author

MAC Recommends Reforms of UK Shortage Occupation List 1

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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