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Government commissions MAC review of Shortage Occupation List

This article was first published in October 2018. The MAC has since reported its findings and the Government has confirmed the Shortage Occupation List will be amended in respect of Certificates of Sponsorship assigned on or after 6th October 2019. You can read full details of the revised list here

The Government has this month commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

The Shortage Occupation List identifies skilled roles deemed to be in critically low supply in the UK labour market.

Where employers want to fill roles featured on the SOL, the rules on hiring non-UK and non-EEA employees under the Tier 2 (General) visa are relaxed:

  • Shortage occupation roles are exempt from the stringent requirements under the Resident Labour Market Test. This is extremely advantageous for the recruiting employer in both administrative and cost terms when hiring Tier 2 migrants.
  • Shortage occupation roles are given priority over non-SOL roles where the cap on Certificates of Sponsorship has been reached in any given month – as was the case for consecutive months after November last year.

Enforcing an arbitrary bottleneck

The Tier 2 (General) visa is the primary entry route for non-EEA skilled workers. While it has long been criticised by employers and HR professional across industries for its inadequacies, since November 2017, the flaws have drawn wider attention on the back of NHS doctors being refused Tier 2 visas by reason of the visa limit having been reached for successive months.

The Government eventually took action and, in June 2018, removed NHS doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap. A pragmatic and much-needed, albeit temporary, measure. However, the problem remains for Tier 2 applicants in other parts of the economy.

These are skilled workers who, by virtue of the Tier 2 visa eligibility criteria, are recognised as offering a valuable contribution to the economy. Yet despite otherwise qualifying under the onerous eligibility requirements, these applicants have no guarantee of securing a Tier 2 visa, since their application is at the mercy of the visa cap and whether Certificate of Sponsorship allocations are oversubscribed at the time of application.

It is impossible for employers to plan effectively for their recruitment needs when Tier 2 (General) applications are effectively subject to a lottery. The route is in need of reform.

Addressing fundamental issues of the Tier 2 (General) visa

The review of the SOL is the Government’s latest step as it manoeuvres to prepare the UK immigration rules for Britain’s withdrawal from Europe.

Following the MAC’s report in September into EEA migration, the Government announced proposals for a new system for UK immigration, to include the removal of preferential treatment for EU citizens; shifting visa eligibility criteria to skills over nationality; and reforming the current skilled worker route, abolishing for example the Tier 2 visa cap.

An updated SOL will be essential to allow employers to fill skilled roles that are recognised as being in shortage and ensure such roles are not impacted by any triggering of the visa cap.

Preparing for post-Brexit recruitment & compliance

Given the 5-year lapse since the last review of the SOL, we should expect to see considerable amendments to roles featured to allow for shifts in economy, labour market trends and some degree of post-Brexit future proofing. For example, we may see more digital roles to support the government’s Digital Strategy.

The review is an opportunity to take the current Tier 2 (General) visa closer to the real needs of UK employers, not just now but with some degree or capacity for future proofing.

As it is being led by the MAC, we should expect some form of consultation with industry, and employers are encouraged to submit their opinions on the functioning of the SOL in respect of their sector and recruitment needs. The MAC’s findings are expected to be published in the Spring 2019.

Change is clearly ahead, and UK employers are advised to start considering how their recruitment, onboarding and immigration compliance processes will operate within a post-Brexit system.

DavidsonMorris are specialists in UK immigration, working closely with businesses to provide guidance and support with UK immigration compliance and Home Office applications. Contact us for advice on your business’ immigration and mobility needs.

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