Migration Advisory Committee calls for expansion of non-EU skilled work visas

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has called for more roles to be added to the list of occupations eligible for non-UK skilled work visas.

Mentions of digital and IT roles feature heavily in the MAC’s report, which details its first review of the Shortage Occupations List (SOL) since 2013.

Web designers and developers, IT business analysts, architects and systems designers, and programmers and software development professionals are among the disciplines the MAC suggested adding to the SOL.

In the foreword to the report, MAC chairman Alan Manning said a “high level of employer concern” was shown in the many responses received by the report’s call for evidence, which was partly fuelled by the “considerable uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the future immigration system”.

When the UK voted to leave the European Union, the technology industry raised concerns about the country’s growing digital skills gap, with many claiming that more needs to be done to produce home-grown tech talent.

If the government follows the MAC’s recommendations to include particular occupations in the SOL, these roles then become top priority for consideration in the 20,700 Tier 2 visas allowed each year for highly skilled workers outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

In some cases, the call to add these occupations to the list resulted from a cross-industry need for digital and technology talent.

For example, when looking into the demand and supply for IT business analysts, architects and systems designer roles, the MAC recommended adding the entire occupation to the SOL rather than breaking the segment down into individual roles, because not only is the UK’s own skills pipeline insufficient to meet demand, but the demand also spans several sectors.

Similarly, for web designers, the MAC report said the need for such roles is not limited to the digital sector, but spans different sectors and industries.

“We are currently amidst an era of rapid technological advancement and the remit of digital occupations is expanding far beyond this sector,” it said.

Other digital roles discussed in the report were information technology and telecommunications directors, IT specialist managers, IT project and programme managers, and IT and telecommunications professionals, but the MAC suggested these did not need to be included in the SOL.

As for specific roles within the digital sector, the MAC suggested that IT product managers, although previously on the list, should be removed from the SOL, while cyber security specialists should remain on the shortage list.

Other occupations added to the SOL included vets, psychologists and archaeologists.

In 2018, the MAC recommended scrapping the cap on Tier 2 skilled visas altogether after more than 3,000 visas for skilled people in the science, technology, engineer and maths (STEM) sector were refused earlier in the year because the monthly cap was met earlier than expected.

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