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In a major review, the Migrant Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended abolishing the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) in its current form. It has also recommended that asylum seekers with permission to work can work in any role and not just those that would have previously been on the SOL.
The SOL assists businesses in sectors with severe staff shortages. Previously the SOL was a way around the monthly cap on work visas. Now that this cap has been suspended, the SOL is less important than it used to be. However, it still offers reduced visa fees and the opportunity for employers to pay 80% of the going rate for the relevant job or the SOL general threshold of £20,960 (whichever is higher).
While defending the suitability of the Skilled Worker visa route as sufficient to address employer needs, the MAC considered that maintaining the SOL presents “several concerns” including the risk of encouraging serious migrant exploitation and incurring a higher net cost to the UK taxpayer.
A further key proposal is the exclusion of higher salaried roles from the SOL. During the most recent Call for Evidence to hear views on potential changes to the shortage occupation list, the MAC discouraged evidence from employers and stakeholders for these higher paid roles. While some may argue that the reduction in visa fees is more than a “negligible benefit”, it certainly is the case that inclusion on the SOL is currently most useful for job roles which are generally on lower salaries as it permits employers to pay below the general minimum of £26,200.
The MAC recommended that if the SOL is retained, then its name should be changed to the Immigration Salary Discount List to correctly reflect its function in the immigration system. Moving forward, the MAC voiced support for adopting a sector-based approach for eligibility into the Skilled Worker route. This would involve assessing each sector individually and focusing on the benefits that UK immigration policy may provide.
In light of the above, the MAC recommended 8 occupations for the UK Shortage Occupation List, including 2 specific to Scotland:
The continued inclusion of care workers on the list will be a welcome relief to the sector to alleviate recruitment pressures on it. However, with care workers making up 41% of all visas granted in the year ending June 2023, the MAC also commented that they are “increasingly concerned about the serious exploitation issues being reported within the care sector”.
It is up to the Government whether they implement any of these recommendations. Often they will, but this is not always the case. It seems unlikely that the Government will be content to allow asylum seekers to work in any role. However, perhaps it could be limited to roles that are eligible for the Skilled Worker route.
Many employers will be disappointed with the MAC’s recommendations to abolish the shortage occupation list. However, there is some merit to the argument that it no longer serves its function and that its real function currently is to open lower paid/skilled roles up for sponsorship. There is also merit to the argument that no employer should be able to pay below the going rate regardless of shortages. However, the reality is that without the SOL many employers would have to pay well in excess of the going rate to sponsor certain lower paid roles or not be able to sponsor them at all.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Business Immigration Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.