In Focus: The UK Immigration Salary List 2024 - formerly the Shortage Occupation List

A comprehensive summary of the UK Government’s Immigration Salary List. Examining what it is, the latest changes to salary thresholds and what it means for rural businesses
Logging worker sawing tree logs

The Immigration Salary List replaced the Shortage Occupation List on 4 April 2024 following changes in the scale of salaries for overseas skilled workers entering the UK. The new list has also been shortened significantly by the government as a means of restricting the number of overseas workers and lowering the level of immigration in the UK.

In addition to the Immigration Salary List the government has also introduced new, increased, salary thresholds which changes the landscape of the labour market in the UK. It means in the future it will become even more difficult for employers to sponsor skilled workers which could put further pressure on labour supply.

What is the UK Immigration Salary List (ISL)?

To counter the shortage of available skilled labour in certain occupations, the government published the latest Immigration Salary List this month as part of a package of measures originally set out in December 2023.

The occupations on the list are those considered by the Home Office that are in very short supply and which would benefit from a reduced wage level in order to increase supply. By reducing the minimum salary threshold, employers can benefit from only being required to pay 80% of the general threshold, this being £30,960 per year, but the hourly rate remains at £15.88.

Why does the list exist?

One of the main government policy objectives is to reduce the level of immigration to the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the year ending June 2023, 1.18m people came to the UK expecting to stay for at least 12 months. The total emigrating during this period was estimated at 508,000. This means a net migration of 672,000 added to the population. However, following the UK’s exit from the EU in 2021, net migration of EU nationals was -86,000, meaning that 758,000 non-EU nationals entered the UK.

According to the government, this increase in migration puts severe pressure on the country’s infrastructure, housing, and the national health service. As a result, it has put in place further restrictions on skilled workers entering the UK, including a reduced Immigration Salary List.

Job types

Previously under the Shortage Occupation List there were a total of 53 occupations. This has now been severely reduced to 23 on the Immigration Salary List. This means that where 30% of job roles permitted through the skilled worker route, the changes to the Immigration Salary List reduces this to 8%.

Whereas in the past, occupations such as veterinarians, architects, and engineers were covered by the Shortage Occupation List, these have now been removed. The table below sets out the occupations now available on the Immigration Salary List.

Occupation SOC Code Description
Managers and proprietors in forestry, fishing,
and related services
1212 Scotland only, and only fishing boat
Laboratory technicians 3111 UK wide, with 3 years or more
Pharmaceutical technicians 3212 UK wide
Boat and ship builders and repairers 5235 Scotland only
Stonemasons and related trades 5312 UK wide
Bricklayers 5313 UK wide
Roofers, roof tilers and slaters 5314 UK wide
Construction and building trades not
elsewhere classified
5319 UK wide but only retrofitters
Animal care services occupations not
elsewhere classified
6129 UK wide but only racing/stud grooms,
stallion handlers, stud hands/handlers and work riders
Care workers and home carers 6135 UK wide
Senior care workers 6136 UK wide
Chemical scientists 2111 Scotland only and only nuclear
industry jobs
Biological scientists 2112 UK wide
Social and humanities scientists 2115 UK wide but only archaeologists
Artists 3411 UK wide
Dancers and choreographers 3414 UK wide but only skilled classical
ballet or contemporary dancers meeting the standard required by
internationally recognised UK based or contemporary dance companies
Musicians 3415 UK wide but only skilled orchestral
musicians who are either leaders, principals, sub-principals, or numbered
strings positions meeting the standard required by internationally recognised
UK orchestras
Arts officers, producers, and
3416 UK wide
Graphic and multimedia designers 2142 UK wide
Welding trades 5213 UK wide but only high integrity
welders where the role required 3 years or more years related on the job
Agriculture and fishing trades not
classified elsewhere
5119 UK wide, only jobs in the fishing
Fishing and elementary agriculture not
classified elsewhere
9119 UK wide, only deckhands on large
fishing vessels
Carpenters and joiners 5316 UK wide

It is clear that the UK Government does not want to see any sector permanently relying on immigration through the skilled workers route and this is evident from the reductions in the occupations available on the Immigration Salary List. Decisions on occupations on future lists will be determined as to whether it provides a genuine benefit to employers. In effect, any discount offered must not put downward pressure on wages and should not disadvantage domestic workers. In addition, consideration will be given to occupations being placed on the list where the applicable sector has a clear realistic and sustainable strategy for what happens when the occupation is removed from the list.

Although very few agricultural occupations appear on the Immigration Salary List, and where they do appear, they are very targeted, the sector does benefit from the Seasonal Workers Scheme where there are between 45,000 and 55,000 seasonal workers visas available for particular occupations in the horticulture sector. A further 2,000 visas are available each year for poultry workers.

Salary thresholds

The main change that took place on 4 April was the increase in the minimum salary threshold. Previously, the general salary threshold for skilled workers was £26,200. This has now been increased to £38,700. If the occupation is on the Immigration Salary List, the minimum salary is reduced to £30,920, equivalent to a 20% reduction in salary levels. However, even at a lower level, wage levels for some occupations on the list are still higher than the domestic wage level, making it more difficult to source required workers. As a result, employers are being encouraged to source domestic workers.

What is missing from the list?

It has already been noted that the number of occupations on the Immigration Salary List has been significantly reduced, so much so that it is very unlikely that rural business employers will be able to use the list. When taken together with the increase in the minimum salary threshold for skilled overseas workers, it will be far more difficult for rural employers to source migrant skilled labour at an affordable cost to the business. Therefore, employers will need to look to the domestic labour market.

The potential economic impact of the changes to the immigration system in the UK

Pressure has been building on rural businesses seeking suitable labour since the UK left the EU and the free movement of labour came to an end. Although the Covid-19 pandemic slowed down this pressure, it is beginning to increase due to the imbalance between labour demand and supply.

The last two years has shown that the domestic labour market has become increasingly competitive, leading to wage inflation and a reduction in operating margins. With further restrictions on access to skilled overseas workers through the higher salary threshold and a much-reduced Immigration Salary List, rural employers will need to look at alternative labour pools, such as those leaving the armed forces, as well as refocusing their respective business operations to increase productivity.

In summary

  • The Immigration Salary List replaced the Shortage Occupation List on 4 April 2024
  • It is intended to assist those sectors where labour is in high demand but where there is a lack of domestic workers to fill vacancies
  • The number of occupations on the list has been reduced from 53 to 23
  • Previously, the minimum salary threshold for those using the skilled workers route was £26,200. As of 4 April, it has increased to £38,700
  • Occupations on the Immigration Salary List benefit from a reduced minimum salary level of £30,960. However, it is unlikely that rural businesses will be able to benefit due to the reduction in eligible occupations
  • The Seasonal Workers Scheme for agricultural occupations remain, permitting 45,000 to 55,000 visas for workers in the horticulture sector as well as 2,000 poultry visas
  • Rural businesses will continue to experience difficulties in sourcing labour, particularly regarding the domestic labour market which is leading to both a competitive jobs market and a general increase in wages, and limiting business operations

Key contact:

Charles Trotman
Charles Trotman Senior Economics and Rural Business Adviser, London