Review of the shortage occupation list

An image of a group of people harvesting sprouts.

The MAC (Migration Advisory Committee) has published its review into the SOL (Shortage Occupation List), which lists eight occupations which it recommends are included to the list. The recommendations do not include any occupations within the agriculture industry.

The SOL identifies occupations where employers are struggling to recruit sufficiently from the domestic workforce and migration is considered an appropriate alternative. Inclusion on the SOL grants an occupation more favourable migration conditions, with the aim to increase the pool of applicants for a role and reduce labour shortages.

The MAC was asked to review the following aspects of the SOL:

  • Which occupations on the current SOL should continue to be included and which should be removed.
  • Which occupations, if any, based on the evidence provided by stakeholders should be added to the SOL.
  • Whether the salary requirement for shortage occupations should, in future, be whichever is the higher of the going rate or £20,480.

NFU survey results

The NFU has surveyed 506 members on their experiences with labour shortages as part of its response. 

Most worryingly, to minimise the impact of a shortage of labour on their business, 41.5% of respondents who are struggling to recruit and retain workers have reduced their production levels. This will be of great detriment to British food production.


“It’s disappointing that the evident shortages impacting the agriculture industry haven’t been recognised. We know farmers are having difficulty recruiting long-term for vital roles in their farm businesses."

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw 

You can read our deeper dive into the findings from our survey further down the page.

3 October 2023

MAC completes review of Shortage Occupation List

The MAC has recommended that eight occupations should be added to the UK-wide SOL, with a further two added to the Scotland-only SOL.

These occupations do not include any that have been put forward by the NFU for consideration.

NFU Deputy Tom Bradshaw has said it is “disappointing” that shortages impacting several sectors across the agriculture industry have not been recognised for inclusion on the list.

He added: “Whether it’s a shortage of milkers or tractor drivers, we know farmers are having difficulty recruiting long-term for vital roles in their farm businesses. It’s positive that the Migration Advisory Committee is open to hearing more about these shortages and we’ll gather the evidence required.

“In the meantime, the horticulture and poultry sectors’ acute seasonal needs should be fully investigated as part of the MAC review of the seasonal worker scheme.”

Recommended occupations

The eight occupations recommended to be added to the UK-wide SOL are:

  • Laboratory technicians
  • Pharmaceutical technicians
  • Bricklayers and masons
  • Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
  • Construction and building trades (retrofitters)
  • Animal care services occupations (racing grooms, stallion handlers and work riders)
  • Care workers and home carers
  • Senior care workers

The additional two occupations that the MAC recommends are added to the SOL are:

  • Managers and proprietors in forestry, fishing and related services
  • Boat and ship builders and repairers

Further recommendations

The MAC also recommends that the current going rate discount is removed, where employers can pay a discounted going rate salary for occupations on the SOL.

Should the government accept this recommendation, it will mean that many occupations that are currently on the shortage list will no longer be eligible, as they would only receive a ‘negligible benefit’ going forward.

This change would also mean that only low-wage occupations would be eligible to be listed on the SOL, leading to concerns from the committee that this can lead to worker exploitation and higher administrative costs for employers.

With this in mind, the committee is not convinced that it provides a ‘sensible immigration solution’ to labour shortages and has recommended that the government abolishes it.

Instead, suggests that the MAC can be commissioned to examine individual occupations or sectors with serious labour market issues.

The full review can be read online at: GOV.UK | Review of the shortage occupation list 2023

26 May 2023

NFU submits response

The NFU has submitted 8 occupations to be considered for the Shortage Occupation List:

  • Machine Operator (field)/Harvest Operator
  • Dairy Technician
  • Horticulture/Potato Supervisor with Language Skills
  • Egg Grader
  • Poultry Shed Cleaner
  • General Farm Worker
  • Hatchery Operative/Catcher
  • Machine Operator (Packhouse)

The roles we have identified in this submission are in shortage and are vital to the maintenance of production in the UK and growth opportunities for the wider agricultural and horticultural sectors.

Without an immigration solution, labour will continue to be a driving factor in the reduction of UK food, and a rise in imports from countries that often have lower worker welfare and environmental standards.

To support the NFU’s response, the NFU carried out a member survey between 28 April and 9 May 2023 to gather data on roles in shortage in farming and horticulture, which continue to be challenging to fill and for which immigration is a suitable response. The survey was open for nine days and gathered 506 responses from members employing workers.

The survey found that many businesses are holding vacancies and anticipate that these vacancy numbers will increase over time. As of May 2023, 56% of respondents (employers) had open vacancies on farm and 78% expect to have vacancies open over the next 12 months.

In an attempt to retain workers:

  • 90% of respondents have increased wages
  • 53% have increased flexibility on working patterns
  • 43% have offered accommodation

According to the survey results, employers within agriculture have seen wages increase by an average of 9%.

We spoke to a selection of farming businesses as part of our research:


A grower from the South West said: "The cost of employing people has gone through the roof. Since Brexit, the cost of the visa process and schemes has added huge costs to our business and it is challenging to pass them through the supply chain; we just have to learn to live with it."


Just under a quarter of respondents said that they were increasing automation on farm to minimise the impact of labour shortages on their business, but automation still has a long way to go before it can replace labour completely.

A berry grower in the Midlands told us: "I've looked at robotics for picking the strawberries, but a robot would only replace one worker. You would also still have to have a supervisor to look after it who would ultimately need paid more."

Another horticulture grower said: "If the ground is wet, then we definitely cannot use machinery as the ground cannot cope with the weight of the machines. Current automation is not as good as the human eye. A robot cannot see what is good produce and what is not whereas the human eye can.

"Automation does not fix the problem of labour shortages. Over the next five years we need people in the field without a shadow of a doubt."

The NFU expects to see an updated shortage occupation list in the New Year.

The Migration Advisory Committee has announced its intention to review the Seasonal Worker visa route during 2023.

NFU members can read our response in full at: NFU response – Call for Evidence on the Shortage Occupation List

26 May 2023

Consultation closes

This consultation has now closed.

12 April 2023

NFU to respond to the call for evidence

The NFU has launched a member questionnaire which will be used to provide evidence for our response to this review.

Roles in shortage have been identified for each sector and the questionnaire will collect data to support the inclusion of these roles on the SOL. 

The survey has now closed. Individuals and businesses can still respond to the consultation however on the government's consultation page.

The consultation will close on 26 May.

27 February 2023

Government launches consultation

The MAC has launched an inquiry into the Shortage Occupation list, seeking evidence from organisations on roles that are currently filled by migrant workers.

Read the consultation in full at: GOV.UK | Shortage Occupation List: call for evidence 2023

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  • 27 February 2023: The Migration Advisory Committee launches a call for evidence in response to its review of the Shortage Occupation List.
  • 28 April 2023: The NFU launches a member survey, seeking views from members to feed back into its overall response to the consultation.
  • 26 May 2023: NFU submits response including survey responses highlighting that more than 70% of members have had difficulty retaining workers in the last two years.
  • 3 October 2023: The committee published its review into the Shortage Occupation List, which includes recommendations on future labour shortage solutions.