Immigration rules that govern the hiring of foreign workers to plug gaps in the UK labour market should be abolished, according to a Government-commissioned report.
In a major review, the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said the shortage occupation list (SOL), which is used to allocate work visas, could lead to exploitation and a net cost to taxpayers.
The list is designed to help people from overseas fill vacant jobs on lower visa fees and allows their employers to pay them 80% of the role’s usual rate, down to a minimum of £20,960.
The MAC has previously said that this discount should be scrapped to prevent the undercutting of resident workers and the exploitation of migrants.
If ministers accepted this key recommendation, the committee said, it would mean most of the roles currently on the list are no longer eligible as they would receive only a “negligible benefit” by being included.
The proposed change would leave mostly low-wage occupations eligible for the list, which the committee said raised “several concerns”.
Low-paid roles are more likely to see migrants exploited and will more likely lead to a net fiscal cost for the UK, meaning some of the burden could fall to the taxpayer, the MAC said.
Women are more likely than men to be paid below the going rate where that is an option, the committee said, suggesting some discrimination may have taken place.
The committee said it was not convinced the list provides a “sensible immigration solution” to labour shortages and recommended the Government abolish it.
Instead, the MAC suggested it could be commissioned to carry out standalone reviews of the role of immigration in certain sectors, such as manufacturing or hospitality.
The committee did recommend eight occupations for the 2023 UK-wide list – including care workers, lab technicians, bricklayers, roofers and animal care services – but said “going forward” the scheme should be scrapped.
For the Scotland-only list, it suggested fishing and forestry managers and boat and ship builders be included.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is expected to speak at the Tory Party conference later, was sent a copy of the report on Tuesday morning.
Business chiefs have previously backed the SOL, calling for a more liberalised approach to immigration to boost economic growth.
But immigration minister Robert Jenrick has said employers should look to the domestic workforce rather than seeking “lower-skilled labour” from overseas, with figures showing net migration hit a record high last year.
Committee chairman Professor Brian Bell said: “Our review recommends a total of 10 occupations be placed on the shortage occupation list. Going forward, however, we think that the Government should work to abolish the SOL.
“The SOL has always played a relatively minor role in immigration policy, but recent changes to the immigration system have diminished that role further.
“We are not convinced that the SOL is an effective tool to address labour shortages across different occupations and sectors.
“We think a broader approach that focuses on all aspects of the labour market for a particular sector, of which immigration may be part, would be more beneficial.”
Focusing on recruiting domestically and helping to return some of those who became inactive during the pandemic will require employers to be more innovative, Prof Bell said.
“I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with firms having to work a bit harder to get workers.”
The Government has been contacted for comment.