People Walking Against Illuminated Glass Wall

Is a major overhaul in the pipeline for the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)?

On 3 October 2023, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the government’s independent migration advisor, published its finalised review of the SOL, following its interim report earlier this year. You can read our thoughts on the interim report, here.

In an unanticipated move, MAC has put forward a number of fundamental questions to the government in respect of the SOL and its role within the UK immigration system, whilst also putting forward further roles to be added to the list.

We consider some of the key takeaways from the report, below.

Recommended additions to the SOL

In its report, MAC has recommended that the SOL be reduced to only the following 8 UK-wide roles and 2 Scotland specific roles:


Role Limitations Already on SOL?
Laboratory technicians Only those with 3+ years experience in the job role (new limitation) Yes
Pharmaceutical technicians NA No
Bricklayers and masons NA Yes
Roofers, roof tilers and slaters NA Yes
Construction and building trades n.e.c Only “retrofitters” (new limitation) Yes
Animal care services occupations n.e.c Racing grooms, stallion handlers, stud grooms, stud hands, stud handlers and work riders. No
Care workers and home carers NA Yes
Senior care workers NA Yes
Managers and proprietors in forestry, fishing and related services Only “fishing boat masters” No
Boat and ship builders and repairers No

No employer should pay below the market rate

The ability to sponsor migrants based on a lower salary threshold is a key component underpinning the SOL. However, in a substantive change from previous reports, MAC has suggested that the government scrap the lower salary incentive from the SOL.

MAC comments “The going rate helps to protect resident workers from undercutting and reduces the potential exploitation of migrants“, a view that has been echoed by various branches of the government and the legal system over the last year or so. In fact, MAC comments later in the report that it has become increasingly concerned about the level of exploitation that has been reported within the care sector, an area that it plans to closely monitor.

However, despite its concerns, care workers (previously added to the list on a temporary basis) are recommended to remain on the SOL.

Reform or abolish?

By far the most subversive point raised by MAC is the proposal that the SOL either be totally revamped or scrapped altogether.

In our previous article, we discussed whether the SOL should be revered in the same way that it was pre-Brexit, given the level of change within the UK immigration system. Similarly, MAC questions whether the previous benefits gained from recruiting roles from the SOL have been so substantially watered down during the post-Brexit transition that they have been rendered almost meaningless. For many employers, the administrative burden and associated fees are so high that there is no cost benefit recruiting a SOL role.

MAC comments, “These concerns mean that we are not convinced that the SOL provides a sensible immigration solution to shortage issues in low-wage sectors, and so our preference is for the government to abolish it”.

Further, the report states that, “low-wage migrants are less likely to make a positive net fiscal contribution and so some burden will likely fall on the taxpayer“, which, perhaps, is a factor that should be balanced against the ongoing need to recruit into certain struggling industries to provide a clearer picture of the true benefit gained.

Ultimately, it is a decision for the government to make. Should it opt to retain the SOL, MAC suggests an alternative model that would require MAC to conduct standalone reviews of the role migration plays in certain sectors, through the lens of broader market issues, and determine whether the sector might benefit from a “tailored eligibility criteria for accessing parts of the immigration system“.

Now, we must wait for the government’s response. It will be very interesting to see its take on MAC’s recommendations, given this report represents such a radical departure from the usual tone as it relates to the SOL.