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Will the Shortage Occupation List help the veterinary workforce?

05 August 2019, at 9:00am

Recruiting from overseas should become easier as vets are expected to receive priority visa status

Government advisory body, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), has recommended that veterinary surgeons be reinstated onto the UK’s Shortage Occupation List. The recommendation is intended to alleviate recruitment difficulties currently facing veterinary practices across the UK by allowing fast-tracked recruitment of non-European vets for roles in the UK.

Why the Shortage Occupation List matters

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) is used to make it easier, quicker and less costly for employers to hire nationals from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries for roles where there is a lack of suitably skilled workers within the resident labour market.

Under current UK immigration rules, freedom of movement only applies to EEA nationals. Citizens of countries outside the EEA, however, are required to secure a relevant visa in order to travel to the UK to work.

The primary route for non-EEA nationals to work in skilled roles is the Tier 2 general visa, but this is a highly restrictive category and only 20,700 are made available each year to employers across all areas of the economy.

Stringent eligibility criteria also apply, which can preclude many employers, particularly smaller practices, from hiring from overseas. These include requirements for the worker to be sponsored by a qualifying employer, that the role must demand a minimum skill level and the job must pay a salary of at least £30,000.

Roles that feature on the SOL, however, benefit from more flexible Tier 2 criteria. There are lower visa fees, priority allocation is given to these roles in the event the Tier 2 visa cap limit is reached and employers do not need to prove they have “tested the market” and tried without success to first recruit a UK resident worker. The SOL effectively opens up Tier 2 to a greater number of employers who may previously have been deterred by greater costs and strict requirements.

The situation for vets

Veterinary surgeons had been added to the SOL in 2008 following evidence of significant workforce shortfalls. The role was subsequently removed in 2011, when it was deemed the supply of EEA-national vets had resolved the shortage in supply. Recent years have seen mounting evidence of deterioration in recruitment options for vet vacancies in the UK, with calls from industry bodies for the role to be put back onto the shortage list. At the end of 2018, the government commissioned the MAC to assess the current list of shortage occupations in its entirety.

It has been six years since the list was last reviewed and the resulting report recommends wide-ranging changes that would see 9 percent of jobs in the labour market feature on the list – compared with the current figure of 1 percent – including the reinstatement of vets.

The MAC considered evidence from the BVA, the RCVS and the Veterinary Profession Panel on vacancy levels and recruitment rates. Their submissions showed growth in vacancy rates for vet positions and recruitment difficulties prevalent across the sector, such as declining volumes and suitability of applications and longer lead times to fill roles.

An immediate solution to the workforce crisis

Recruiting from overseas offers a viable and immediate means to fill vacancies for vets, particularly while efforts to increase the supply of UK-trained and UK-resident vets are yet to make their mark on the labour market.

The impact of Brexit in restricting access to EU-national vets is also of significant concern. While the end of EU free movement will restrict access to EU-national workers, post-referendum migration statistics already show declining numbers of EU nationals coming to the UK to work.

Despite the terms of Brexit remaining unclear, the government is pushing ahead with its plans to overhaul the UK immigration system and make EU citizens subject to the same skills-based immigration rules as non-EEA nationals. The new system is expected to be effective by 2021.

In its report, the MAC also recommended that the shortage list, and the system for monitoring and alleviating skills shortages in general, would require a full review in light of the new immigration rules. Employers should therefore brace for further change.

In the meantime, the ability to access the global talent market with less cost and hassle should be a positive step for practices in meeting their recruitment needs, and for the sector as a whole in easing the workforce crisis. We expect practices will move quickly to take full advantage of the relaxed rules to improve their recruitment options.

Read more about using the Shortage Occupation List

Anne Morrisis a solicitor and Managing Director at UK immigration law firm Davidson Morris. The firm specialises in business immigration, helping UK employers with all aspects of international recruitment and personnel mobility including Tier 2 visas, sponsor licence applications and management and HR immigration compliance.

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