For occupations on the Government’s Shortage Occupation List (“SOL”), employers enjoy a number of advantages when applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa. But the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List, which the Government regularly reviews on the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”), remains extremely limited, despite shortages in the UK labour force.

Many UK employers will be familiar with the experience of placing a carefully crafted job advertisement, only to be inundated with recruitment agency spam and CVs from candidates lacking in skills and experience. Worse still, they may not receive any applications for the role at all.

In 2014, an Employer Skills Survey, undertaken by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, revealed that 22 per cent of vacancies in the UK remained unfilled because employers could not find workers with the right skills.

Which begs the question; why is the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List so ‘short’?

Put simply, the Government, in an effort to encourage employers to train domestic workers, has placed very strict criteria on the roles that can be considered for the list.

Benefits of the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List

Employers recruiting for roles on the Shortage Occupation List gain two major advantages.

First, they are not required to complete the Resident Labour Market Test, which requires an employer to thoroughly advertise a vacancy locally, before offering the role to an employee outside the EEA.

Secondly, if the migration limit for Tier 2 (General) Visas is reached in any period, priority is given to roles on the list.

The jobs that feature on the list do not, however, receive any exemption from the other requirements of Tier 2 (General) Visas.

Notably, the minimum salary threshold which, under changes to the UK Tier 2 visa from April 2017, will be increased to £30,000, applies to positions on the Shortage Occupation List.

The only positions exempt from these new requirements will be ‘new entrants’ (graduates and those under 25) and a handful of public sector jobs that escape the new reforms until 2019.

How is the List determined?

According to MAC, for an occupation or job title to be recommended for inclusion on the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List, it must:

  1. meet the required skill level for Tier 2 (currently NQF6+ [degree level]);
  2. be experiencing a national shortage of labour; and
  3. be demonstrably sensible to fill these shortages using labour from outside the EEA.

MAC undertakes a rigorous review process to determine which suitable occupations are experiencing labour shortages. These investigations take into account vacancy numbers, typical advertisement periods, trends for demand, growth in expenditure on training and recruitment, and alternatives to migrant labour.

The “Approved Job List” is a separate list maintained by the Government that lists all of the occupations eligible for Tier 2 (General) Visas.

Occupations currently on the Shortage Occupation List

There are presently 32 occupations on the list:

  1. Production managers and directors in mining and energy;
  2. Biological scientists and biochemists;
  3. Physical scientists;
  4. Natural and social science professionals;
  5. Civil engineers;
  6. Mechanical engineers;
  7. Electrical engineers;
  8. Electronics engineers;
  9. Design and development engineers;
  10. Production and process engineers;
  11. Engineering professionals not elsewhere classified;
  12. IT business analysts, architects and systems designers;
  13. Programmers and software development professionals;
  14. Environmental professionals;
  15. Medical practitioners;
  16. Medical radiographers;
  17. Nurses;
  18. Secondary teachers (maths, chemistry and physics);
  19. Social workers;
  20. Quality control and planning engineers;
  21. Engineering technicians;
  22. Medical and dental technicians;
  23. Artists (animators);
  24. Dancers and choreographers;
  25. Musicians;
  26. Arts officers, producers and directors;
  27. Graphic designers;
  28. Buyers and purchasing officers (aerospace);
  29. Welding trades (pipe welder);
  30. Aircraft maintenance and related trades;
  31. Line repairers and cable jointers (overhead line workers);
  32. Chefs.

Within each of these broad occupational categories, there are further specific job titles, skill sets and in some cases higher salary thresholds that must be met.

Reviewing the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List 

The Shortage Occupation List is designed to temporarily assist employers in meeting domestic market shortages, and is therefore regularly reviewed by MAC.

The most recent full review was held in 2013, but a partial review of the list in 2015 recommended that certain occupations in the health, digital technology and energy sectors be added

Nurses were not recommended for inclusion at that time but were added in October 2015, pending a separate MAC investigation and report.

The report released by MAC in March was scathing of the Department of Health for using immigration as a “get-out-of-jail-free card” when shortfalls should have been anticipated and domestic nurses should have been trained.

MAC reluctantly conceded that there was a significant shortage of nurses and recommended that nurses should receive priority for a limited period.

The teaching profession is currently under review by MAC.

Why aren’t low income jobs on the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List?

As part of a wider campaign to curtail immigration numbers, the Government continues to seek proposals from MAC that will restrict the inflow of visas under various routes.

The recent Review of Tier 2 Report, released by MAC in January, recommended, among other things, the introduction of a minimum £30,000 salary threshold for all Tier 2 (General) Visas, including those roles on the Shortage Occupation List.

This policy was designed to:

  1. promote the selective international recruitment of highly specialised experts; and
  2. reduce the larger numbers of less skilled workers, where domestic UK workers should be trained to fill the roles.

The rationale is clearly that employees in less skilled, lower paid jobs can be filled by the domestic job market.

This broad-brush approach creates difficulties for many industries.

Training and experience take time to accumulate and the Tier 2 (General) Visa system does not provide any reprieve for employers with immediate occupational demands.

Further, most individual businesses lack the resources and financial capacity to train unqualified staff from scratch. They are instead at the mercy of educational institutions and governments to boost the numbers of qualified candidates.