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Tackling immigration and skills shortages in Scotland

Since the UK left the EU there have been monumental changes to immigration law that employers should consider while planning future recruitment and team structures.

The free movement of people has ended and with it comes the need for EU workers to register under the European Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021, the Skilled Worker visa and changes to other existing routes under the points-based system and even new routes. Although immigration policy applies to the UK as a whole, post-Brexit immigration affects Scottish employers differently from companies based in England primarily.

The industries supporting Scotland’s economy are inherently different to other parts of the UK and particularly England. The horticultural, agri-food, fishing and social care sectors are key for both growth and sustainability for the Scottish economy.

The immigration difficulties for businesses within these heavy hitters in the Scottish market are three fold; firstly, EU workers and other migrant workers who are new to the UK will need to prove a minimum standard of education (NQF level 3 generally) to apply for the ‘skilled’ worker route. Second, the salary of a role performed in Scotland is likely to be paid at a lower market rate than England in particular, Lastly, that if a Scottish employer does not meet the minimum salary threshold, it will need to rely on the Shortage Occupational List to make up the remaining points to secure a sponsored visa.

Despite the minimum salary threshold for the Skilled Worker visa being reduced from £30,000 to £25,600, Scotland still faces a shortage of workers. A drop in migration was always foreseen with the loss of free movement and the new rules that now apply to European workers not already resident, impacting the Scottish businesses supported by these workers. As more migrants are exposed to the new immigration system, Scottish employers are encouraged to take advice on whether there is a sponsorship route available for a candidate.

Companies may reach an impasse as although these jobs are in demand, they may not be listed as a role that is capable of being sponsored or deemed in shortage. Further, those in the agricultural and care sectors (strong supporters of the Scottish economy) may struggle to meet the salary points under the new system due the immigration salary expectations that may be more achievable for an English employer.

To reduce the impact of immigration concerns for Scottish employers following Brexit, the Scottish government proposed the introduction of the “Scottish Visa”, which was refused (as was lobbying for regional variations within the requirements for the Skilled Worker visa). Despite this, there have been strong calls for greater control over the Shortage Occupational List, to ensure the roles deemed as necessary but in shortage, truly reflect the needs of the Scottish economy. Employers can remain hopeful that the Shortage Occupational List will evolve as demand changes following Brexit and now COVID-19. The Home Office recently accepted the MAC recommendation that deckhands on large fishing vessels with three or more years’ experience should be included on the list of skilled workers visas. Although not added to the Shortage Occupation List, given Scotland boasts a healthy fishing industry, the latest inclusion will be a welcomed boost; particularly to vessels based on the west of Scotland.

As the situation develops, employers are encouraged to act now to protect their businesses against any skills gaps due to anticipated recruitment shortages stemming from slower immigration. Early projections for annual recruitment should be made where possible to assist with business planning and sponsorship licences applied for sooner rather than later. This will help avoid delays in recruitment and “missing” candidates given the application process for licences can take around 8 weeks as standard, but current wait time of 18 weeks is expected.  If a company is considering a sponsorship licence or is unsure where a role may be suitable for sponsorship, they should take advice on the suitability of the role before making financial commitments and offers of employment.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022.


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