Shortages here, shortages there – the Migration Advisory Committee recommends expanding the list of shortage occupations

10 June 2019

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the independent body set up to advise the government on migration, has recommended that the list of shortage occupations be updated and expanded. The shortage occupation list is incorporated into the Immigration Rules and includes roles for which there are not enough settled workers in the UK.

Currently only about 1% of jobs are included on the shortage occupation list; however, the MAC has suggested widening the list, potentially allowing far greater numbers of Tier 2 sponsored workers’ roles to be included. The proposed updated list would cover around 9% of the UK job market.

The shortage occupation list has for a number of years provided relief to employers wishing to avoid having to satisfy the bureaucratic exercise of completing the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). The RLMT is where the role is advertised under the terms of UK Visa and Immigration’s (UKVI) guidance to check whether a suitable settled worker can be identified. Further benefits of a position’s inclusion on the shortage occupation list are lower UKVI fees and an exemption from the minimum salary requirement when applying for settlement. 

The proposed new roles on the UK shortage occupation list include, for example, web design and development professionals, architects and various scientific jobs. In addition, the proposals include that many of the existing shortage occupations, such as for civil engineers and certain types of IT role, should be expanded to include many new types of roles.

The number of so-called restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (a key document for individuals applying for Tier 2 (General) visas) is limited to 20,700 a year (with only limited exemptions when a role is considered outside the cap). As a result, UKVI scores requests for restricted Certificates of Sponsorship with roles scoring the highest points being approved up to the point that the monthly allocation is used up. A role listed on the shortage occupation list scores heavily and is therefore higher up the pecking order of requests and more likely to be approved. Providing an opportunity for so many more roles to score points will push them up the rankings for requests and could come at the expense of other roles not included on a new shortage occupation list. 

For sponsored migrants who will be paid salaries towards the lower-end of that which can be paid to Tier 2 sponsored migrants, it will increase the likelihood of such roles not being granted restricted Certificates of Sponsorship, should the monthly allocation requests exceed the monthly cap. UKVI has long prioritised roles according to the salary level. Given that many highly important and specialised roles in the UK do not always command higher salaries, inclusion of a role on the shortage occupation list can be a welcome respite for employers. 

The MAC’s recommendations are not yet government policy, but if they are accepted and passed into law, they could be included in an updated Appendix K to the Immigration Rules in the coming months. All the while the government plans far more sweeping changes which may well make the idea of a shortage occupation list redundant. The Home Secretary commissioned the MAC to carry out the review of the shortage occupation list in June 2018, at a time when the monthly cap was routinely oversubscribed.  As nurses and doctors have now been exempted from the monthly cap and oversubscription is not the norm, time will tell whether the recommendations are adopted.

Assuming the government does accept the recommendations from the MAC then this could also indicate that the RLMT will be removed altogether in accordance with the proposals set out in the White Paper announced late last year. 

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