Scottish labour shortage – Where next for employers? Part 1

With Scotland’s population growth stalling and with labour shortages in the UK at a record high, the demand for migrant workers at all skill levels is ever-increasing.

Part 1 of this insight focuses on some of the current immigration routes for consideration by Scottish employers. Scotland is more reliant on migration than the rest of the UK to maintain population and help alleviate skills shortages. COVID-19 and the loss of EU workers post-Brexit have caused a staffing crisis in some Scottish sectors such as health and social care, agriculture, food and drink and hospitality but the labour shortage and its impact has been widespread across all industries, including Scotland’s tech workforce which accounts for more than £4.8billion Gross Value Added to Scotland each year.

In 2014, the Ipsos MORI immigration tracker recorded that nearly 60% of people in Scotland wanted immigration levels decreased. Opinion has changed with the June 2021 tracker recording that only a third of people in Scotland would like to see immigration fall. A public openness to immigration has been somewhat reflected by new government arrangements.

Part 1 of this insight focuses on some of the current immigration routes for consideration by Scottish employers.

The skilled worker visas

The Home Office has made changes to the new points-based immigration system. For Scottish businesses who wish to employ a migrant worker, this route (previously Tier 2) is now in a new broader and flexible form. The businesses must hold a sponsorship licence, but the level of skill required to employ a migrant work has been decreased to the equivalent of an A level or Scottish Advanced Highers. Through the Skilled Worker Visa, the employee must be paid a minimum of £25,600. However, it is now possible to employ somebody through this route and pay them less if they have other sought-after qualities which count as “tradeable points.” These include those applicants who have a job offer for an occupation on the shortage occupation list. They must be paid a salary of at least £20,480 per annum and 80% of the going rate under the relevant Standard Occupational Classification code.

Senior care workers and managers and directors for health services and public health are currently on the shortage occupation list and with Scotland’s severe labour shortage in this sector, this may be a route worth utilising. However, junior care workers are currently not on the shortage occupation list and in August 2021, Skills for Care recorded a shortage of 105,000 care workers. The vacancy rate was 8.2%, more than double the UK average of 3.7% and the highest on record. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recently made recommendations to the Home Office that all social care workers should be added to the UK’s shortage occupation list urgently.

Health and care visa

This route also includes the health and care visa which applies to qualified doctors, nurses and professionals working in either health or social care. Applications are fast-tracked, there is no longer a cap on the number of applicants, visa fees have been reduced and the immigration health surcharge no longer applies to these applicants so applicants and their immediate families can access the NHS for free. These changes should make applying for roles in the health and social care sector more appealing to overseas workers.

Short-term Visas

Specialised/specific categories only – HGV to Seasonal visas (low skilled)

There are only currently short-term visas for HGV drivers, poultry workers and seasonal visas for non-skilled farm work. Arguably it is a knee jerk reaction to solve a much bigger issue! It does nothing to solve long-term worker shortage or resolve the wider recruitment issues in the Scottish food and drink production lines such as processing and packaging and there is pressure on the government to provide more longer-term solutions.

MAC also recommended reform to immigration rules for short-term assignments for specialist work on a short-term basis for this very reason. However, details of proposed changes have not yet been formulated. It is notable that the low skilled category within the points based system (Tier 3 as was) has never been opened but maybe this will change.

Visitor Visa – Business Visitors

The visitor visa category is vast and covers a wide variety of permitted activities. Business visitors is just one of those. It allows an employee based overseas to visit the UK for business purposes. The maximum period an employee can stay is usually 6 months (but you can apply for longer multi-visit permits). Permitted activities include attending meetings and conferences, site visits or sharing skills and knowledge provided the employee is not carrying out any form of work in the UK or for a UK operation. The permitted activities are very restrictive and it is not an option for bringing new talent to the UK so has limited use.

Refugees as a new source of talent

The UK Government has launched the Displaced Mobility Pilot which was designed in collaboration with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB). TBB are an organisation that match skilled refugees and other displaced people with companies looking for certain skills. This is a world-first database where workers such as trade-workers, engineers, healthcare professionals, teachers, and software developers with a functional level of English language can register themselves to be matched with a company. Employers can hire screened TBB candidates from their talent catalogue and sponsor TBB candidates via the Skilled Worker Route. You can find out more by visiting: The UK’s Displaced Talent Mobility Pilot (

Part 2 of this insight will explore some of the new routes expected to be opened up by Spring 2022.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with our key contacts if you have a matter we can help with. We recently welcomed Pavan Sumal to our national immigration team. Pavan is based in our Glasgow office and has specialised in immigration law since qualifying as a solicitor in 2013 and brings a wealth of experience in this field in both personal and business immigration. She is a member of ILPA and the Law Society of Scotland’s Immigration and Asylum subcommittee.


This information is for general information 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. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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