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Shortage Occupation List review – what the digital and technology sectors need to know

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its long-awaited, full review of the Shortage Occupation List (SoL). We consider the recommendations made by the MAC and highlight those of particular relevance to your sector.

Shortage Occupation List

The SoL is a list of occupations that do not have enough settled workers in the UK to fill available jobs in particular sectors. It is a way of prioritising jobs where shortages are most severe and where the consequences of not filling the vacancies are most serious. These jobs are then given preferential treatment when a UK company is trying to sponsor a non-EEA migrant to fill the vacancy.

The last review of the SoL was conducted by MAC in 2013, since then there have been a number of developments to the UK labour market – unemployment is lower, vacancies are higher but free movement is no longer plugging the gap that it once did.

There are a number of benefits to occupations being placed on the SoL list, both for migrants and for employers:

1.    Resident Labour Market Test

A Resident Labour Market Test does not need to be carried out before filling a job shortage that is included on the SoL. This means employers do not need to demonstrate that they have attempted to recruit the position domestically before hiring a migrant – saving time and money on recruitment processes.

2.    Salary Threshold

Occupations on the SoL do not need to meet the minimum £35,800 salary threshold required for settlement in the UK after five years. This requirement is also waived if the job has been on the SoL in the previous 5 years. Jobs on the SoL do still have to meet the same salary thresholds as Tier 2 (General) applicants. The current threshold is £30,000 for experienced workers and can be as low as £20,800 for new entrants in certain occupations.

3.    Priority

Roles on the SoL are prioritised if the limit of new entrants under Tier 2 (General) of 20,700 is reached. Occupations on the SoL are automatically granted 320 points out of a maximum 480, which is a higher level than could possibly be achieved by occupations not on the SoL such that these roles are prioritised for recruitment by the Home Office.

4.    Fees

Applicants and their families will pay lower visa application fees if their occupation is on the SoL.

The digital sector has grown considerably in the UK and recent reports suggests that the sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the UK economy. Unsurprisingly, the rapid growth in the sector has led to a number of challenges with recruitment and skills shortages. Sector issues highlighted by the MAC report include the digital skills gap, which demonstrate deficiencies across the population in terms of digital skills. Other challenges include the misalignment of skills in UK computer science graduates not meeting employer requirements. Resultantly, there are a high level of unemployed computer science graduates but still a real shortage of digital skills in the UK. Another key issue for the sector is gender disparity, with women representing only 19% of the digital technology workforce.


The MAC makes the following recommendations:

  • IT business analysts, architects and systems designers – recommend expanding to include the entire occupation. This occupation ranked 2nd in the shortage indicator and the roles on the SoL are currently very limited e.g. 2D/3D computer animation, data scientists with 5 years’ experience and evidence of having led a team;
  • Programmers and software development professionals – recommend expanding to include the entire occupation – this occupation topped the shortage indicators and as above, current roles are subject to strict limitations;
  • Web design and development professionals – recommend adding the entire occupation. This is not currently on the SoL; and
  • Information technology and telecommunications professionals not elsewhere classified– this includes roles such as cyber security analysts/engineers and IT network engineers. The report recommends maintaining the occupation on the SoL, but altering the eligibility criteria to include no minimum experience requirement.

In addition, the MAC report recommends removing IT specialist managers from the SoL as the occupation vacancy rate is below average and evidence suggests there have been a number of successful recruitment campaigns in the sector.

The MAC report also highlights difficulties for the sector and suggests that careful monitoring of the system is required. A key concern highlighted in the report is that sponsors under the Tier 2 system must be a “qualifying company” needing to meet certain criteria such as employing between 20 and 250 employees. The MAC report has recommended that the “qualifying company” requirement should be removed for certain occupations in the digital and IT sector as this currently restricts the benefit of the SoL for many companies in the tech sector. Crucially, there is also a requirement for a migrant to have “minimum 5 years’ relevant experience and demonstrable experience of having led a team” for digital and IT related occupations. The recommendation in the MAC report is to remove this requirement in an aim to fill shortages at all levels which is a welcome recommendation.


These recommendations put forward by the MAC will be considered by UK Visas and Immigration. It is expected that these will be accepted and an updated SoL implemented in the near future making it easier to recruit from overseas into a wider range of hard to fill roles.

If you require further information regarding sponsorship of non-EEA nationals or other visa matters, please get in touch.