Review of UK migration rules calls for more dev jobs to be fast-tracked

A public body that advises the UK government on immigration policy has recommended including more programming and software development jobs on the shortages occupation list which would make it easier for employers to bring in skilled tech talent from outside the European Union.

In a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) published today by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), it advocates broadening the list to include all roles related to programming and software development, as well as suggesting web designers as a new addition — recognising the difficulty UK employers can have filling such roles.

The current SOL does include some IT jobs but more tightly defines those roles considered to be in shortage — and therefore to qualify for relative fast tracking through the immigration system.

The MAC’s proposed expansion of the SOL means it would cover some 9% of jobs in the UK labour market vs what is currently around 1%. It does not solely focus on tech jobs, with veterinarians, architects and health workers among the other occupations also recommended for inclusion.

In another recommendation the MAC suggests the removal of a condition restricting the recruitment of chefs via the SOL if they work at an establishment that offers a take-away service — perhaps a sign of the on-demand times, when startups like Deliveroo and JustEat have been expanding the pipeline of eateries that serve up take-out.

“Today’s labour market is very different to the one we reviewed when the last SOL was published in 2013,” writes MAC chair, professor Alan Manning, in a statement. “Unemployment is lower and employers in various industries are facing difficulties in finding skilled people to fill their vacancies. That is why we have recommended expanding the SOL to cover a range of occupations in health, information and engineering fields.”

If a job vacancy is on the SOL it means UK employers don’t need to run a resident labor market test, where they are required to advertise the role to the settled workforce for a set period of time and retain proof that they have done so — a process that adds bureaucracy, delay and cost to hiring migrants, as well as increasing compliance risk.

It also allows for lower wages to be paid vs roles not on the SOL. Shortage jobs are also prioritized vs non-SOL jobs which means they can be less affected by any binding immigration cap (i.e. because the monthly visa quota has been exceeded).

So the widening of programming roles on the SOL could be a boon for UK startups looking to expand their talent base — at least if the government moves quickly to implement the recommendations.

“We are grateful to the Migration Advisory Committee for a very comprehensive report. We will consider it carefully and respond in due course,” a Home Office spokesperson told us when asked for its response and any timeline for implementing the changes.

That said, even if the MAC’s recommendations are implemented quickly they are only likely be a stop-gap because the government has signalled its intent to move to a single points-based immigration system, post-brexit, once the UK has left the EU — publishing a white paper about the planned future skills-based system at the back end of last year. (At that point envisaging the new system would apply from 2021.)

The MAC notes that the revised SOL it’s now recommending would need to be looked at again to mesh with that future system.

“Our recommendations are clearly only applicable under the current immigration system, while EU free movement remains,” writes Manning. “We are recommending a full review of the SOL once there is a clearer picture of what the future immigration system will look like.”

So even with what looks like a little recruitment relief coming down the pipe for UK startups worried about filling skilled vacancies, the country’s immigration rules remain fogged by ongoing brexit uncertainty and the unknown parameters that will apply in a future system when both non-EU and EU migrants will be squeezed through the same government-controlled funnel.