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Home Office Resumes Migrant Worker Visa Review After Industry Frustration

The UK agriculture industry has been reliant on EU workers (Alamy)

3 min read

Exclusive: Home Secretary Suella Braverman has resumed a review into migrant visas that could help tackle shortages in the UK workforce after it was put on hold late last year to the frustration of industries struggling for staff.

PoliticsHome reported last month that the Home Office had asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to pause indefinitely its review of the Shortage Occupation List.

The government took the decision to pause the work late last year after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its most recent estimates of net migration. The ONS said its November findings showed that net migration to the UK in the year leading up to June 2022 was the highest on record, driven by immigration from outside the EU and humanitarian schemes established for people fleeing Ukraine and Hong Kong.

The list, which forms a key part of the government's post-Brexit immigration policy, sets out the jobs deemed by ministers to face a short supply of workers in the domestic labour market and makes it easier for employers to recruit people from abroad to do them. 

Ministers have been under growing pressure to commission a new report, with numerous sectors including food, construction and tourism experiencing chronic labour shortages, driven by the pandemic and a post-Brexit fall in workers from the European Union. MAC last reviewed the list in 2020, and the then-home secretary Priti Patel rejected the majority of its recommendations.

News that the review had been paused caused industry consternation. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was "disappointing" given the "urgency" of the labour shortages problem, while the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said ministers had halted the review at a time "when the UK labour crisis is at its most acute".

However, Braverman has now un-paused the review, with MAC now expected to relay its findings in a "short" space of time, PoliticsHome understands.

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, welcomed the Home Secretary's decision but stressed it was important that she accepted the recommendations.

"It’s the right decision to let the MAC complete their review given that the UK labour crisis has only deepened since their last analysis was done," he said.

"The harder challenge for the Home Office now is to implement the MAC’s recommendations, and fix the skills and labour gaps. We recall the Home Office’s reluctance to do this last time when all of the MAC’s previous recommendations were dismissed."

He was echoed by Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, who said it's "vital" that the process delivers for staff-shortage sectors.

"It must speak to employers who are experiencing crippling skills and labour shortages, to fully understand the impact this is having on the economy," she said.

“Firms are investing in home grown talent, boosting skills and making workplaces more flexible.  But in many cases, there simply aren’t enough people available to fill job vacancies any time soon.  We need to see pace and pragmatism in this SOL review to get it fit for purpose."

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