MAC: UK needs more foreign engineers

The number of specialist UK jobs which need to be filled by workers from outside the European Economic Area is falling, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has said.

The MAC's latest report recommends a reduction in employment covered by the UK's shortage occupation list to 180,000 employees, less than 1 per cent of the total workforce.

Before the MAC started advising on the shortage occupation list in 2008, total employment in occupations covered by the list was in excess of 1 million. The number of migrants taking up jobs through this route each year represents only about 1 in 400 of all immigrants to the UK.

For the second year running the MAC recommends the number of engineering jobs on the list is increased. By contrast, thanks to investment in health training over the last decade, the MAC recommends removing 19 jobs in the health sector.

The MAC was also asked to advise the government on proposals to automatically remove a job from the shortage occupation list after two years – known as the sunset clause. The MAC finds against the proposal, arguing that either the status quo or a four year time period with an opportunity to appeal against removal would be more proportionate.

The MAC believes the current process is working. However, it recognises that the government may wish to impose some time limit in order to focus the minds of employers on the need for up-skilling in certain sectors.

The government also asked the MAC to examine whether or not there should be a separate route within the Tier 2 visa system for creative occupations that do not require the National Qualifications Framework level 6 (NQF6) – the usual skill level needed to qualify for a Tier 2 visa.

The MAC suggests maintaining the present system whereby some specified creative occupations do not have to pass the skill threshold – these include actors, authors, dancers and choreographers.

Chairman of the MAC, Professor David Metcalf CBE, said: “Overall migration through the Tier 2 visa route is already limited – which means our new reduced shortage occupation list will have only a limited impact on overall migration volumes.

“We strongly support the government's up-skilling agenda which has been very successful in bringing down the number of health jobs on the list. But the increasing demand for specialist engineers continues to outstrip supply.”

Prof. Metcalf added said their research shows that attempts by employers and public bodies in the industry to address the engineering skills deficit have so far proven inadequate. “Therefore, we recommend the government add around 20 new engineering sector job titles to the list this year. Although there are a number of initiatives to help boost science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, we emphasise the need for greater strategic thinking around delivery of these.”

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