The Migration Advisory Committee has published its 2023 review of the shortage occupation list. Commissioned in August 2022, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is an independent non-department public body that advises the government on migration issues.


Compared with previous reviews, this review was conducted on the basis of the MAC’s recommendation that employers should not be able to pay below the going rate regardless of whether there is a shortage.


Some of the headline recommendations by the MAC are that the shortage occupation list should be abolished and asylum seekers with permission to work should be allowed to work in any role, not just those on the shortage occupation list.


Keep reading to learn more.


What is the shortage occupation list?


The shortage occupation list comprises a list of job roles which are deemed to be in short supply within the UK labour market. The MAC must also deem it sensible for the job roles to be filled by migration. It is a component of the Skilled Worker route, which is the primary immigration route for those who are working in the UK.


The roles on the list have a more relaxed criteria for applicants in order to attract talent from abroad, however they are not dealt with any faster than standard Skilled Worker applications.


Visa fees for roles on the shortage occupation list are also lower, estimated to be roughly £50 per year by the MAC. The visa fee is reduced by £292 for a 3–5-year visa or £146 for visas lasting up to 3 years. Employers are also allowed to pay the applicant 80% of the going rate, down to a minimum of £20,960.


What changes did the Migration Advisory Committee recommend?


The Migration Advisory Committee made eight recommendations in total. These were divided into two: recommendations for the role of the shortage occupation list (SOL) in the current immigration system, and recommendations for future SOL reviews.  These recommendations include the following:


Recommendations for the role of the SOL in the immigration system


1. The SOL going rate discount should be removed and that all occupations on a national pay scale, alongside those where the going rate exceeds the general threshold, be made ineligible for the SOL.

2. If granted the right to work, asylum seekers should be able to work in any job – not just in occupations which are on the SOL.

3. Sponsorship rules for the Creative Worker (CW) visa route be updated, with the reference to the SOL being removed and to allow employers to sponsor any occupation that is currently eligible for the SW route without having to perform a labour market test. They also recommend that the Home Office attach a minimum salary threshold to the CW visa.


Recommendations for future SOL reviews


1. If the Government opposes allowing low-wage employers to pay below the general threshold for the SW route, the MAC recommend it should either abolish the SOL or heavily reform it to address this issue. They have recommended an alternative approach to the current SOL review process.

2. Should the Government wish to retain a SOL in its current form, they intend to conduct a minor review of the SOL in Spring 2024 – unless otherwise directed by the Government.

3. If the SOL is retained, the MAC suggest that the Government changes the name of the SOL to the Immigration Salary Discount List (ISDL) to correctly reflect its function in the immigration system.

4. The MAC intend not to consider RQF 1-2 occupations as part of minor SOL reviews. They feel that Government should notify them if they would like us to take an alternative approach.

5. The MAC ask the Home Office to provide confirmation by the end of January 2024 that they will move to SOC2020 and update the salary thresholds in line with SOC2020 in the Spring 2024 Immigration Rule changes. If they do not so, the MAC recommend suspending SOL reviews until the switch is made.


Following this report by the Migration Advisory Committee, the government will review these recommendations and follow up with a response.


Our thoughts


Despite the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee, it seems unlikely that most of them will be implemented. The government has taken a firm approach in its approach towards asylum seekers, and it would be surprising if they accepted the recommendation that asylum seekers be allowed to work in any job they wish. While the government has also talked tough on bringing down immigration and prioritising British people, the ability of employers to pay workers 80% of the going rate may potentially undercut British workers while also putting Shortage Occupation List workers in a vulnerable position, a point made by the MAC. Read the full report here for more information.


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