UK migration advisor: Scrap special visa rules for shortage occupations

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) -The British government’s independent migration advisor on Tuesday recommended abolishing one of the main routes for businesses to hire migrant workers in sectors where there are severe staff shortages.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which was commissioned to conduct a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), said making it easier to recruit low-wage workers increased the risk of exploitation.

Business lobby groups have previously called for the government to expand the number of occupations on the list to help firms facing significant issues recruiting staff post-Brexit.

But the committee also said low-wage migrants were more likely to result in a net fiscal cost for Britain, and the high administrative burdens of the scheme made it uneconomic for many businesses.

“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,” the committee said in a report.

Employers can hire migrant workers at 80% of a job’s usual “going rate” in Britain for occupations on the list, which includes roles such as bricklayers and care workers.

Being a shortage occupation can allow employers to bypass the general minimum salary threshold for a skilled worker visa of 26,200 pounds ($31,610), meaning sectors with a going rate below that level particularly benefited from being on the list, MAC said.

MAC recommended no employer should be able to pay below the going rate, which it said helped to protect resident workers from undercutting and reduced the exploitation of migrants.

A spokesperson for Britain’s Home Office said the government would consider the findings of the report and respond “in due course”.

MAC said in future it could instead examine individual occupations or sectors with particularly acute labour market issues, looking at how far immigration policy is helpful, and focussing on changes to things such as wages, training and investment in technology.

The committee said these actions were “likely to be a more sustainable response to the problems”.

($1 = 0.8288 pounds)

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by William James)