The Home Office’s review of labor shortages has been delayed due to data issues

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A government-commissioned review of jobs facing labor shortages has been delayed due to a problem with occupations data.

The Home Office has asked the Migration Advisory Board – an independent advisory body sponsored by the department – ​​to conduct a review of the Shortage Occupations List, which allows employers to sponsor migrants for a visa. skilled worker to perform certain jobs while paying them 80% of the regular going rate.

Writing to MAC president Brian Bell in August, then-immigration minister Kevin Foster said he wanted to address an “ad hoc” approach that had sprung up recently to address labor shortages, as well as to bring the list of jobs that employers are struggling to fill. nowadays.

The Home Office rejected many of the committee’s recommendations following its last report in 2020, which Foster said was due to the uncertainty caused by the Covid pandemic.

But he said the time was now “right to look at the shortages…against the latest available evidence”.

In response, Bell accepted the commission but said it would not be possible to complete it before the Home Office’s proposed deadline of March 2023 – so changes could be made to the system. immigration by fall 2023 – due to an issue with a key data set.

The review was to be based on data from the Office for National Statistics Standard Occupational Classification, which classifies jobs in the UK.

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However, in July the ONS said it identified a problem with the way data was collected in its latest update, SOC 2020, which meant some survey respondents were misclassified. It will post an update this month on the extent of the errors, along with a timeline for correcting them.

As a result, Bell said the MAC could “not have confidence in this data such that we can reasonably use it to make recommendations”.

Rather than use the incorrect data, the committee chair offered to use the 2010 figures – the previous iteration – or to delay the review until the ONS update. The Home Office could then decide whether or not to wait for the corrected dataset, depending on how long the ONS said it would take to correct, he said.

“We recognize how frustrating this will be for stakeholders who have been waiting for the SOL review to begin. However, it is crucial that our recommendations are based on evidence and that we have confidence in that evidence,” Bell said.

Using 2010 data would also be “problematic given the substantial changes in the labor market that have occurred as the pandemic has subsided,” he said.

He said that while the MAC would try to meet the Home Office’s timeline “as much as possible”, the commission might not meet the March 2023 deadline. He said there had also been “some long delays in getting this commission to us”.

Responding to Bell’s proposals on September 6, Foster agreed that it would be best to use 2020 data “if possible” given how the labor market has changed since 2010.

But he said the question of which profession codes the exam uses “should not prevent it from being completed in a timely manner”.

He suggested ministers are unwilling to delay any changes to the list of shortage professions – setting an “absolute deadline” of June this year.

“If your report were to be delayed any longer than that, we would not be able to implement its recommendations in the fall 2023 immigration rule changes, meaning they would be delayed until spring 2024. “, did he declare.

He said the Home Office would therefore await an update from the ONS on its occupancy data to decide which figures to use before launching the review. He said if the ONS correction process was likely to significantly delay the MAC review, he should use the 2010 data.

He added that industries wanting jobs added to the SOC should provide the MAC with “strong evidence” to make up for the “deficit” of recent data in this case.

“The time has come to review the shortages”
Foster asked the Migration Advisory Committee to answer three questions: whether salary requirements for SOL should be changed; which jobs should continue to be included or removed from the list; and that should be added.

The MAC recommended a series of changes to the SOL in a September 2020 report, following the introduction of a new post-Brexit points-based immigration system earlier this year.

The Home Office rejected most of its recommendations, apart from adding a number of health and social care jobs to the list.

“We felt that the time was not right to make such significant changes as the visa pathway for skilled workers was still settling and the state of the labor market emerging from the restrictions of Covid-19 was very uncertain,” Foster said in her August letter to the MAC.

“Since then, the picture of the job market has brightened up. We now consider the time is right to examine shortages at these levels against the latest available evidence,” he said.

He added that the government had implemented the MAC’s call to add social workers to SOL “to help ensure short-term sustainability as social care recovers from the pandemic”.

Care work is currently the only occupation on the shortages list that requires qualifications below Level A or equivalent, known as RQF3. However, Foster said employers had requested that the visa system allow them to sponsor people to take up other jobs requiring below-A level qualifications – which he said had resulted in “ad hoc temporary arrangements such as those introduced for truck drivers and food supply chain workers last fall, “several of which have not seen significant numbers of applicants”.

He said the Home Office agreed with a call from the MAC – in its latest annual report – for a more formalized approach.

“The SOL could form the basis of such an approach, ensuring that all future arrangements would be based on MAC’s review of the evidence, rather than the voices of the sector crying out loudest,” he said. declared.

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