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Immigration review urges expansion of shortage occupation list to fill UK vacancies

By Hayden Smith, Press Association Home Affairs Correspondent

A list used by the Government to allocate skilled work visas should be expanded, a major review has concluded.

Vets, web designers, architects and psychologists are among professions that should be added to the shortage occupation list (SOL), the Migration Advisory Committee said.

Other occupations that are already listed should be extended to cover all roles within the category, including medical practitioners, artists and civil engineers, according to the MAC's report.

The expansion would mean the SOL covers around 9% of jobs in the labour market, up from approximately 1% currently.

MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning said: "Today's labour market is very different to the one we reviewed when the last SOL was published in 2013.

"Unemployment is lower and employers in various industries are facing difficulties in finding skilled people to fill their vacancies.

"That is why we have recommended expanding the SOL to cover a range of occupations in health, information and engineering fields."

He noted that the recommendations are only applicable under the current immigration system, while EU free movement remains.

"We are recommending a full review of the SOL once there is a clearer picture of what the future immigration system will look like," Prof Manning said.

Under the Tier 2 visa route, UK employers can recruit staff from outside the European Economic Area.

Tier 2 applies to two categories of skilled workers -those coming to fill jobs advertised under a resident labour market test (RLMT), and those arriving to take up positions included on the shortage occupation list.

Jobs on the SOL do not have to meet a minimum £35,800 salary requirement for permanent settlement after five years, and are given priority if an annual quota of 20,700 visas is met.

Occupations and job titles can be included if they are in shortage, they meet the required skill level, and it is "sensible" to fill vacancies with non-EEA migrant labour.

The list currently contains 34 occupations with 143 job titles.

Last year, Home Secretary Sajid Javid commissioned the MAC to conduct a full review of the list after the Tier 2 general cap was hit, resulting in a number of occupations being refused places.

The MAC's review also recommended:

- a consideration of medium-skilled occupations which may become eligible for the SOL under a future system;

- the inclusion of Gaelic teachers in the Scotland-only list;

- removal of a restriction on chef visas, which currently excludes establishments offering a takeaway service;

- and the creation of separate SOLs for Wales and Northern Ireland, alongside the existing UK and Scotland-only lists.

Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Expanding the shortage occupation list will help businesses access the skills they need when they can't recruit locally.

"But the ending of free movement will present significant costs and challenges for employers.

"Businesses continue to raise concerns about proposals for rigid salary thresholds, time restrictions for lower skilled workers, and the extension of the immigration skills charge - all of which will ramp up costs and worsen recruitment difficulties."

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: "The MAC report highlights the growing labour and skills shortages in key parts of the economy, both the private and public sectors."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are grateful to the Migration Advisory Committee for a very comprehensive report.

"We will consider it carefully and respond in due course."

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