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Fading Relevance: The Uncertain Future of the Shortage Occupation List

Oct 09, 2023

What is the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)?

The SOL is a list of roles deemed to be in shortage in the UK and where immigration has been assessed as a suitable measure to help tackle those shortages. The current SOL comprises 37 UK-wide roles, one role for Scotland alone and 15 health and education roles based on national pay scales. The current SOL can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/immigration-rules-appendix-shortage-occupation-list

What benefit does the SOL currently bring to employers?

The SOL serves to assist employers in filling the gaps in the UK labour market by making it easier to recruit foreign workers. One of the significant advantages of the SOL is the financial gain. SOL roles are subject to discounted salary requirements and a discounted application fees of £551 for less than three years or £1084 for over three years.

Removal of going rate discount

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has proposed the removal of the going rate discount, which means that SOL roles would have to be paid £26,200 annually or the full rate for the position, whichever is higher.

The MAC recommends a reduced list of 8 UK-wide roles and 2 Scotland-specific roles:

• Scotland

• Managers and proprietors in forestry, fishing and related services (“fishing boat masters” only)

• Boat and ship builders and repairers

• UK-wide

• Laboratory technicians (only those with 3+ years full-time experience – new limitation)

• Pharmaceutical technicians

• Bricklayers and masons

• Roofers, roof tilers and slaters

• Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified (only “retrofitters” – new limitation)

• Animal care services occupations not elsewhere classified (“racing grooms”, “stallion handlers”, “stud grooms”, “stud hands”, “stud handlers” and “work riders” only)

• Care workers and home carers

• Senior care workers

Here's What You Need to Know About the Recommended Shortage Occupation List

It's important to note that the recommended list does not include any wins for sectors that have been hit hard by Brexit and COVID-19, such as hospitality, retail, and manufacturing. It's worth noting that the July 2023 SOL update added construction and fishing roles, which are not included on this list.

Additionally, some of the roles that our clients commonly sponsor, such as biochemists, civil, mechanical, electrical and electronics engineers, programmers and software development professionals, and veterinarians, are not featured on the recommended SOL.

Whilst such roles will often meet the going rate for the role without requiring a discount, that is not always the case. If the SOL is amended as recommended such roles will still qualify for skilled worker visas but will have to meet the undiscounted salary requirements unless other tradeable points are available. Also, visa applicants (or employers who meet the visa costs) will face increased visa fees when recruiting foreign nationals into such roles.

Much of the justification for such a radically reduced SOL is the recommended removal of the going rate discount. If implemented, any role with a going rate above the general threshold would no longer see any benefit to inclusion on the SOL.

The Power of Reinvention

The MAC has suggested the SOL be renamed the “Immigration Salary Discount List”.

Scrapping it!

Overall, the MAC does not think the SOL serves its purpose of addressing labour shortages and so it has recommended it is eventually abolished altogether or heavily reformed.

What else has the MAC suggested?

Some other key recommendations of note are:

• Youth Mobility Scheme: Exploration of expanding the youth mobility scheme. It seems many stakeholders that contributed to the MAC’s consultation suggested this may alleviate some of their recruitment challenges.

• Creative Workers: Removal of the resident labour market test requirement for creative worker visas and the introduction of a minimum salary threshold, to avoid the route being used to pay lower salaries than required for the same roles under the skilled worker route.

• Asylum Seekers: Easing work restrictions applied to asylum seekers. Those whose asylum application has been pending for at least 12 months are permitted to work in the UK, but only in roles on the SOL. The MAC recommends they are not restricted to SOL roles and instead permitted to work in any role or at least roles eligible for skilled worker visas.

• Hospitality: Sommeliers be reclassified to RQF3 and so qualify for skilled worker visas (for those with 3 years + experience). They have not been recommended for inclusion in the SOL though.

Crucial Lessons Learned

It is unclear which recommendations, if any, the government will adopt. The SOL is likely to be significantly reduced and may even be scrapped entirely. If the SOL is maintained, it should be seen as a temporary solution.

Employers and sectors seeking expansion of the SOL in the future will have to provide specific evidence and information for individual roles to persuade the MAC to recommend their inclusion.

Building a Resilient Talent Pipeline: The UKs Next Big Leap

The focus on improving terms and conditions, grassroots recruitment, and enhancing the talent pipeline in the UK is likely to continue.

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