The Migration Advisory Committee says migrants who are biochemists, architects and web designers should be able to jump the queue when applying for skilled worker visas
The Migration Advisory Committee says migrants who are biochemists, architects and web designers should be able to jump the queue when applying for skilled worker visas

Foreign web designers, architects and biochemists should be granted priority access to the UK to help fill growing skills gaps, government advisers urged on Wednesday.

The recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee would increase the range of professionals from outside the EU who are allowed to skip the queue for high-skilled worker visas from 1 per cent currently of all jobs in the British labour market to 9 per cent.

Under the proposed changes, jobs including vets, speech and language therapists and psychologists would be added to the Home Office’s list of so-called “shortage occupations”, in a move would make it easier for migrants to secure the visas.

Some sectors already on the list would be expanded, to include all medical practitioners rather than just nurses, as well as a broader range of computer programmers, web developers, and civil and mechanical engineers.

The committee made clear this was a recognition of the “increasing difficulty” facing UK employers in recruiting for certain roles.

As a result of the tightening labour market, there were an estimated 846,000 job vacancies in the three months to March: 28,000 more than a year earlier. Nearly one in three job vacancies were in health and social work or retail.

Inclusion on the Home Office’s list of shortage occupations allows migrants from outside the EU simpler entry to Britain due to lower visa fees and a waiving of employers’ usual duty to prove that there is no suitable local worker for the role.

In the longer term, migrants do not have to meet the £35,800 salary threshold required to settle in the UK after five years.

The main advantage of inclusion on the shortage occupations list is that these jobs are prioritised if the number of visa applications starts to hit the UK’s annual cap of 20,700 — although this level has so far only been reached on two occasions, in 2015 and 2017-18.

Explaining the changes, Professor Alan Manning, chair of the committee, said the UK labour market was “very different” to the one that existed during the last review of the list in 2013.

“Unemployment is lower, vacancies higher and free movement [of EU nationals is] no longer providing the ready supply of workers it once did for some employers,” said Prof Manning. “In addition, there is considerable uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the future immigration system.”

He added these factors had contributed to a “high level of employer concern”.

The government last year published plans for a post-Brexit immigration regime that said ministers would consult on a controversial £30,000 minimum salary requirement for migrants applying for high skilled worker visas. The white paper also proposed reducing the number of migrants filling low skilled jobs.

“Understandably . . . many [employers] expressed concerns about the future immigration system - which skills will be included and what will be the salary thresholds,” said Prof Manning.

The committee said once ministers have clarified their immigration plans after Brexit they should conduct a further study to consider the effect of bringing EU nationals within the high skilled worker visas system.

Matthew Percival, head of employment at the CBI, the business lobby group, said companies would welcome the “short-term relief” of an expanded shortage occupations list, but urged the Home Office to consider lowering the planned £30,000 minimum salary threshold for skilled workers after the UK leaves the EU.

““If the UK is to succeed post-Brexit, it must remain open to the world,” he added.

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