Employment and Immigration Law Update - Review of the Shortage Occupation List

25 June 2019

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent public body that advises the government on migration issues, has completed a full review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The SOL is incorporated into the Immigration Rules as Appendix K. This article examines the impact of this review.

Why does it matter?

The SOL is important, because it is much easier to obtain a Tier 2 General visa for a role that is on the SOL. If an employer wishes to sponsor a migrant worker to fill a shortage occupation they are not required to complete a resident labour market test. Shortage occupations are given priority when awarding restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (needed if the migrant is applying from outside the UK) and there is a slightly lower visa application fee. Shortage occupations are exempt from the minimum salary requirement for settlement after five years. In addition, asylum seekers who have been in the UK for over 12 months can apply for permission to work in shortage occupations.

The MAC has noted that since it last fully reviewed the SOL in 2013, economic conditions have
changed considerably and it is generally much harder for employers to recruit. It therefore recommends expanding the SOL. However it also notes that it cannot be expanded to cover every role requested by employers, as to broaden the SOL too widely would dilute the benefits of an occupation being on the SOL. If accepted by the government, the new SOL would cover 9% (rather than 1%) of the jobs in the UK.

What would change?

The MAC has recommended adding some new occupations to the SOL. For example vets, web
designers and architects.

It has also recommended broadening the SOL. At the moment there are some occupations on the list, but only where specific requirements must be met. For example software development professionals are only covered if the role requires at least five years’ experience and the employer is registered as a Digitech sponsor. The MAC has recommended that all roles in occupations such as software developers, programmers, nurses and medical practitioners should be included. In our experience the current conditions cause a lot of confusion and covering all roles within these occupations should make it easier for employers to work out if a particular vacancy is actually covered by the SOL.

The MAC has also recommended removing the current prohibition on chefs working in a restaurant that also offers a take-away service. Other restrictions would remain regarding experience, salary and the requirement for all food to be cooked fresh to order.

What does the future hold?

There is already a separate SOL for Scotland and the MAC has recommended that SOL for Wales and Northern Ireland should also be implemented. The MAC has also suggested that a separate scheme is needed to address issues of de-population in some remote communities.

The UK Government’s 2018 White Paper on Immigration suggests that after Brexit the required skill level for visa sponsorship may be lowered. The MAC has therefore provided some initial feedback on submissions it received regarding occupations below RQF level 6. Particular concerns were raised by the agriculture, food processing, warehousing, hospitality, construction, transport, cleaning and social care sectors. However, the MAC has suggested that if a new system is implemented a review should be completed to decide if it is still appropriate to have a SOL at all.

This article is from the June 2019 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at June 2019.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information please contact Clare Hedges or another member of Birketts' Immigration Law Team.


Clare Hedges

Senior Associate - Head of Immigration

+44 (0)1223 326605

+44 (0)7581 150137