Oil and gas companies facing a chronic skills shortage have received a boost with news that the UK Government is to relax the rules on employing engineers from outwith Europe.
Twenty new engineering job categories are to be added to an exemption list which should make it easier for businesses to bring in skilled foreign workers for posts which can’t be filled.
The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) is a register of jobs which are exempt from the strict immigration rules which severely limit employers from taking on skilled foreigners.
But following a review, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has advised immigration authorities that 20 jobs categories such as mechanical, production and electrical engineers should be added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL).
The Government was also seeking to introduce a “sunset clause” which meant some job categories would be automatically removed from SOL after a certain period but the advisory committee rejected this move.
Immigration and employment law expert, Jill Turner, said both decisions would be warmly welcomed by Aberdeen’s hard pressed oil and gas community which is struggling to plug an increasing skills gap.
Ms Turner, a senior associate with legal firm Pinsent Masons, said: “This is really good news for the oil and gas sector which is finding it difficult to recruit specialist engineers. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has listened to the concerns of employers and has taken steps to make it easier for firms to recruit outside Europe.
“Clients tell me one of their biggest challenges is being able to fill key jobs when bidding for or landing a contract and this creates uncertainty and undermines long term planning and business growth. ”
“MAC have acknowledged that there is a shortage of specialist skills in Aberdeen which is vital to the oil and gas industry and that it’s not possible to train people for those posts in the short term.
“In the last four years 100 job categories have been removed from SOL and it is relief that a so-called sunset clause has been ruled out because this would have made it easier to axe more posts and would be detrimental to recruitment in the energy sector.”
Employers filling vacancies listed on SOL do not have to meet the same rigorous standards of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), which requires that before non European Economic Area nationals can be offered these posts, they have to be advertised in a manner that is compliant with the immigration authority’s stringent rules.
Going through the RLMT process can take months and can often delay project starts and in some cases lead to businesses losing the chance to bid for lucrative work.
Chairman of the MAC, Professor David Metcalf, CBE, said: “The increasing demand for specialist engineers continues to outstrip supply. Our research shows that attempts by employers and public bodies in this industry to address the engineering skills deficit have so far proven inadequate. Therefore, we recommend the government add around 20 new engineering sector job titles to the list this year.”
The MAC recommendations, along with changes to the resident labour market test, minimum salary requirements and qualifications, represent important changes which will shape employers recruitment strategies and are expected to come in to force on April 6.