The number of professions on the shortage occupation list (SOL) prioritising non-European visas needs to be expanded “as soon as possible” in order to plug the UK’s widening skills gap, the government has been warned.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended that vets, psychologists, web developers and archeologists all be added to the list, which prioritises applicants for Tier 2 skilled worker visas in professions where the shortages are most severe.
Under the proposals the list would cover 9 per cent of all jobs in the labour market, equivalent to an estimated 2.5 million jobs, compared to the 1 per cent it currently covers
The MAC also recommended lifting seniority or specialism restrictions for social workers, medical practitioners, psychiatrists and those operating in the creative industries such as animators and engineers – all areas it said there was “sufficient and overwhelming evidence of a UK-wide shortage”.
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MAC chair Professor Alan Manning said: “The labour market is very different now from the last SOL review in 2013. Unemployment is lower, vacancies higher and free movement no longer providing the ready supply of workers it once did for some employers.”
Manning added there was “considerable uncertainty” surrounding Brexit and the future immigration system, leading to “a high level of employer concern”.
Gerwyn Davies, CIPD public policy adviser, said the MAC’s recommendations would come as a relief to employers, who have been subject to rising recruitment pressures due to a tightening labour maker – particularly in roles in healthcare and IT.
But, he added, employers would still be eagerly awaiting a definitive post-Brexit immigration policy.
“The recommendations […] need to run alongside a more streamlined process for recruiting all non-UK nationals when the new post-Brexit immigration policy is introduced in 2021,” Davies said.
“Employers will be particularly keen to see the planned £30,000 salary threshold lowered and a much shorter timeframe for recruiting workers from overseas.”
Karendeep Kaur, senior immigration consultant at Migrate UK, shared Davies’ concerns: “Let’s not forget this all only applies until the current immigration rules remain intact with EU free movement,” she said.
“Thereafter, it all depends highly on the rules in place, as anticipated from 2021 and the introduction of the new skills-based immigration system at the time and whether the MAC’s recommendations are upheld.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are grateful to the Migration Advisory Committee for a very comprehensive report. We will consider it carefully and respond in due course.”
Separately, the Home Affairs Committee has today warned the government that the current design of the EU settlement scheme could risk a repeat of the Windrush scandal, in which many long-term UK residents – some of whom had lived in the country since the late 1940s – were wrongfully denied legal rights, medical treatment on the NHS or in some cases deported.
In a report on the EU settlement scheme, the committee said EU citizens could be left in an uncertain situation regarding their rights and eligibility to remain in the UK or that some could be left out altogether.
Stuart McDonald, a Scottish National Party MP and member of the committee, said: "Under the government's current plans, too many people, including children and vulnerable individuals, risk falling through the gaps and not accessing the scheme at all.
“Enshrining citizens' rights in law, supporting applicants accessing the scheme and addressing the technical issues facing applicants are all essential if EU citizens are to have faith that their rights will be protected in the future. The warning signs are there, now the government must take action."