On 29 September 2020, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) completed and published its review of the current Shortage Occupation List.
The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) assesses occupations where employers are having difficulties hiring adequate numbers of workers with the required skills to fill their vacancies. In these instances, the Home Office considers that migration is a sensible response to the shortages. These occupations are then subject to more favourable migration arrangements allowing employers to assess a wider pool of suitable candidates. An occupation’s skill level is based on the length of time it would take to train a new entrant to become fully competent in the performance of the tasks associated with a job.
The MAC was commissioned to review the SOL on 17 March 2020, with a focus on medium-level skilled occupations at RQF level 3 – 5. As part of the review, on 13 May 2020 the MAC launched a 6-week Call for Evidence; asking employers, representative organisations and government departments to share their experiences on labour market shortages. Because of the short response time and the impact of the pandemic only 200 responses were submitted. A further 63 organisations provided evidence directly to the MAC secretariat. Compared to the 2019 review of the SOL, when 558 responses were received in a 9-week period, this year’s review had considerably less responses.
Nonetheless, based on the feedback received from this consultation, the MAC has recommended 70 new job types to be added to the Shortage Occupation List, including senior care workers, butchers, bricklayers, and welders.
What does this mean for employers?
A points-based Skilled Worker route will be introduced as part of the new immigration system from 1 January 2021.
This route will include an element of tradeable points. Skilled workers with at least 80% or 90% of the relevant salary for their occupation could make up points elsewhere by scoring points for working in a shortage occupation. This effectively reduces the salary threshold of £25,600 by 20%. They would still have to be paid at least £20,480.
Occupations that are subject to national pay scales (e.g. nurses, teachers) must instead be paid on those scales.
This 20% reduction in the salary thresholds “fundamentally alters the nature of the SOL”. The main benefits to an occupation being on the SOL used to be lower visa fees, exemption from the cap on skilled worker immigration, exemption from the settlement threshold and exemption from the Resident Labour Market Test (requirement to advertise on the domestic market before recruiting a migrant). In the new system the Resident Labour Market Test will be removed, and the cap suspended. Therefore, the key benefit for a job to be included on the SOL becomes lower salary thresholds.
What Health and Social Care jobs have been recommended for the Shortage Occupation List?
The following occupations that were previously considered lower skill level have now been recommended for the Shortage Occupation List:
- Healthcare practice managers (1241)
- Residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors (1242)
- Dispensing opticians (3216)
- Pharmaceutical technicians (3217)
- Medical and dental technicians (3218)
- Health associate professionals (3219)
- Nursery nurses and assistants (6121)
- Nursing auxiliaries and assistants (6141)
- Dental nurses (6143)
- Senior care workers (6146).
The new immigration system has previously been criticised for excluding care workers from the list of eligible occupations for the fast track Health and Care visa, despite their role during the pandemic. Only senior care workers have been recommended for the SOL. Other care worker roles continue to be excluded as they fall below the medium skill threshold of RQF level 3.
The Skilled Worker route requires employer sponsorship. Health associate professionals (3219) are often self employed (66%). As a consequence, these workers do not qualify. This limits the benefit of this occupation on the SOL.
A full list of other occupations that have been recommended for the SOL can be accessed here.
What occupations have been recommended to be removed from the Shortage Occupation List?
- 2433 Quantity surveyors
- 5434 Chefs
According to the Home Office’s July policy statement, the occupation chefs (5434) will be treated as being eligible for the Skilled Worker route whether it is included on the Shortage Occupation List or not. This means that employers will be able to sponsor a greater breadth of chef roles through the new route than they were able to under Tier 2 (General).
The MAC has also considered the optimal approach for future reviews of the SOL and decided a minor review should take place annually. This would aim to provide an opportunity for employers to submit new evidence that could make a compelling case to be included on the SOL and also an opportunity to flag occupations that may no longer need to be on the SOL.
A major review should take place every 3 years. At each major review all occupations would be effectively removed and reconsidered. All eligible occupations would be invited to submit evidence to justify a place on the SOL.
What happens next?
If the government accepts these recommendations, the Shortage Occupation List will be updated.
We are also waiting for the full details of the new points-based policy to be approved and published by parliament.
The immigration rules themselves are also due for a general rewrite in line with the Law Commission recommendations on simplification of the immigration rules, to which the government will be responding shortly.
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