Return of the MAC: Should hospitality be on the Shortage Occupation List?
The hospitality sector accounts for a significant 7% of the UK workforce and comparing the most recent three-month period up until January this year with the immediate pre-pandemic period (Jan-Mar 2020), vacancies in the sector are 72% higher. This compares to an increase of 42% in the overall economy.
The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) highlights the jobs which the government considers to be in short supply and therefore allows employers to recruit workers to fill those vacancies. The SOL is updated every six months or so by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and employers can apply for a Skilled Worker visa for any migrant worker who is offered a job in an occupation on the SOL.
In March 2023, the MAC published its interim ‘Construction and Hospitality Shortage’ review to the Home Office highlighting the extensive labour shortages across the two sectors.
The MAC SOL methodology uses two broad criteria to decide which occupations should be added to the list. Firstly, it asks whether the occupation is in shortage – this is based on indicators, from a range of datasets, which look at wages, vacancies, and employment, combined with evidence from stakeholders. Secondly it asks if it is sensible to fill this shortage with migrant workers – this considers whether putting the job on the SOL is likely to be the most effective and appropriate response to shortage. Evidence from stakeholders contributes to this decision, alongside internal analysis.
Although there were some positives for the construction sector with a recommendation to add five new construction codes, the MAC report did “not recommend the addition of any occupations in the hospitality sector” to the list. In addition to this, MAC refused to reverse its recommendation to remove chefs from the SOL, a decision which was highly criticised by industry professionals after the report was published in March 2020.
The MAC acknowledged that vacancies in the hospitality sector are high compared to pre-pandemic levels, it also said it had not received substantial evidence which proves that shortages cannot be filled with domestic recruitment. It added that many occupations in this sector are at skill level RQF 1-2, and therefore it requires an exceptional argument that immigration should be used to alleviate shortage.
The government accepted MAC’s recommendations in full in its published ‘Spring 2023 Budget’ released in March. These new construction codes should be added to the SOL before the government’s summer recess.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, argued that her trade body had provided compelling evidence to MAC and responded by saying “Ongoing labour shortages are crippling hospitality businesses, forcing them to reduce their hours and costing the industry billions in lost trade. She added that “with shortages in the sector two-thirds higher than pre-pandemic, it’s clear there aren’t enough active people in the economy to fill all the roles we need, despite the extensive work the sector is doing to recruit domestically, including the economically inactive.”
Hope and solutions
One thing that provides some hope to the industry is that MAC did identify that this was only an interim report which was subject to significant time constraints from the government. The full report into the review of construction and hospitality occupations will be published later this year and its recommendations could be subject to more change.
Nothing however will change in the short term and that could pose a problem for the hospitality sector over the summer. There is a short-term solution though as businesses could employ students, including those who are currently in the UK under the Student Visa immigration category. Migrants in the UK on a Student Visa are normally permitted to work 20 hours a week during their term time and work full-time, outside of term time. The migrant worker can then switch at the completion of their educational course onto a Skilled Worker visa, if the business wishes to continue with their employment.
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