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MAC Recommends Changes to UK’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL)

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has just published its recommendations on much-needed changes to the UK’s Shortage Occupation List, and it makes for interesting reading. For those unfamiliar with the SOL, it is a key Home Office document which lists all of the jobs for which there is an acute shortage of suitable skills in-country, and hence there is a confirmed need to recruit suitable workers from outside of the UK. As such, the SOL plays a key role in ensuring that the UK has the correct mix of skills to meet the demands of employers. It may be tempting to think that the roles on the SOL are highly specialist and highly paid roles, however, as the new roles recommended to be added to the SOL by the MAC, this is now not the case. In this article, we will review the proposed changes to the SOL and the rationale for making those recommendations.

Why Has the SOL Been Reviewed by the MAC?

In March 2020, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, commissioned the MAC to the SOL in large part to include roles to RQF level 3. At present, the SOL only contains roles of RQF level 6 and above (RQF 6 is equivalent to degree level). The new post-Brexit immigration system for 2021 will allow migrant skilled workers to fill roles at the lower RQF level 3 (RQF 3 is equivalent to A-Level). The report explains, “RQF3-5 occupations will become eligible for the SOL under the new Skilled Worker route. This report considers which, of the 151 occupations at this skill level, should now be included on the SOL. We have recommended around 20 entire occupations, or job titles within them, at this skill level for inclusion on the UK-wide SOL, with some further recommendations for the Devolved Nations’ SOLs”.

Another reason for the review is that the new immigration system will see a reduction in the salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600, and for new entrants, the level may be as low as £20,480. As the new MAC recommendations state, “This 20 per cent reduction in salary thresholds fundamentally alters the nature of the SOL”.

Finally, the SOL review also needed to consider the relative shortage of occupations in each of the devolved nations (Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales).

Taking the COVID-19 Pandemic into Account

As the authors of the new MAC report acknowledge, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made deciding which roles to include in the SOL much more complex. In large part, this is because there was a tight labour market before the pandemic, with an employment rate at 76.6% (the highest on record), and an unemployment rate of 3.9%. Since then, there has been a massive drop in job vacancies and employment levels. As the report confirms, “Given the evolving context, it is a very challenging time to undertake a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). We have used additional measures of how occupations are affected by COVID-19, used stakeholder evidence on the potential impacts of COVID-19, made more use of real-time data and considered the impact of COVID-19 in our recommendations on the timing of the next SOL review”.

What Did the MAC Recommend for Inclusion on the SOL?

The MAC has recommended a significant increase in the number of shortage occupations. In the last review by MAC in 2019, they recommended the inclusion of occupation list equivalent to 9% of UK employment. In this latest view, this has jumped to 14%. In total, the MAC has recommended 70 entire occupations (or job titles within them) for inclusion on the SOL. The MAC has recommended a range of new occupations to be added to the SOL, including nursing auxiliaries and assistants, residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors, senior care workers, butchers, and bricklayers and masons.

The recommended SOL contains the following newly added roles (the number before the role type is the applicable Standard Occupational Classification - the SOC code):

  • 1181 Health services and public health managers and directors - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 1242 Residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 2213 Pharmacists - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 3111 Laboratory Technicians - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 3131 IT operations technicians - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 3412 Authors, writers and translators - Only Interpreters in this occupation code
  • 3539 Business and related associate professionals n.e.c. - Only the following jobs in this occupation code: Data analyst and Business Analyst
  • 3565 Inspectors of standards and regulations - Only the following jobs in this occupation code: Meat Hygiene Inspectors, also known as Official Auxiliaries
  • 5112 Bricklayers and masons - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 5119 Agricultural and fishing trades n.e.c. - Only those jobs in the fishing industry
  • 5212 Moulders, core makers & die casters - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 5215 Welding trades - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 5223 Metal working production and maintenance fitters - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 5231 Vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 5241 Electricians and electrical fitters - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 5249 Electrical & electronic trades n.e.c. - Only the following jobs in this occupation code: Fire alarm technicians and Electronics hardware design engineers
  • 5431 Butchers - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 6131 Veterinary nurses - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 6141 Nursing auxiliaries and assistants - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 6144 Houseparents and residential wardens - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 6146 Senior care workers - All jobs in this occupation code
  • 9119 Fishing and other elementary agricultural occupations n.e.c. Only the following jobs in this occupation code: Deckhands on large fishing vessels (9 metres and above) with at least three years full-time experience using their skills

Final Words

Even at first glance, it is easy to see the range of RQF level 3 roles which have been added to the SOL to meet the future skills requirements of the UK. It is possible that a further review will be required once the UK fully departs the EU at the end of the transition period, and the impact on the jobs market of COVID-19 lifts. It may be that a large-scale occupational shift will need to occur from the retail sector to areas in demand such as health and social care, and this may in itself reduce the shortage of such skills. As ever, we will keep you updated with changes to the SOL and the wider immigration system as they evolve in 2020, 2021, and beyond.

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