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Put architects on migration priority list, says Home Office review

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Architects should be added to the UK’s migration priority list to tackle an acute skills gap in the profession, a Home Office review has recommended

The Migrant Advisory Committee (MAC) report, published this morning (29 May), has called for architects to be put on the official ’Shortage Occupation List’ (SOL) because there are not enough British or EU applicants to fill posts.

According to the report, architects ranked seventh out of 105 occupations in its shortage indicators, with an ’above average’ vacancy rate despite ’a variety of measures being undertaken to source new supplies of labour from within the UK’.

The SOL allows employers to hire staff more easily by enabling workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to ‘jump the queue’.

It means they are exempt from tight restrictions to strict migration from outside the EU, including requirements for employers to advertise the roles to UK workers first, and the requirement for them to be taking up a minimum salary of £35,000.

In addition to architects, the review also called for vets, web designers, psychologists to be placed on the list, as it recommended sweeping migration changes to help plug workforce gaps.

Its recommendations would increase the shortage list from 1 per cent of jobs to nine per cent, placing around 2.5 million workers on the list.

At the moment only workers from the EEA – which includes all EU countries including the UK, as well as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein – enjoy freedom of movement within the bloc.

The current scheme for highly skilled non-EEA migrants, known as a Tier 2 visa, was introduced at the end of last year for architects. However, according to the new report, take-up is low, with a ’large refusal rate’ on applications.

The report pointed to data from law firm Eversheds Sutherland, which showed that between November and April last year just six architects were granted work visas under the scheme, from 111 applications that were made by architects.

The report reads: ’The Committee believes that placing the occupation on the SOL now will be able to alleviate temporary labour shortage, but that this shortage can be overcome in the foreseeable future by continued change in recruitment practices, pay and other measures to increase occupational attractiveness of the industry.’

The report states that a third of all UK architects were born outside of the UK, with 18.7 per cent EEA and 12.9 per cent non-EEA. 

Professor Alan Manning, MAC chairman, said: ’Today’s labour market is very different to the one we reviewed when the last SOL was published in 2013.

’That is why we have recommended expanding the SOL to cover a range of occupations in health, information and engineering fields.’

’However, our recommendations are clearly only applicable under the current immigration system, while EU free movement remains. We are recommending a full review of the SOL once there is a clearer picture of what the future immigration system will look like.’

Piers Taylor, an outspoken critic of the impact Brexit would have on the profession, said while the review shows how badly the UK needs overseas architects, it was important to look at the system we risk losing if we leave the EU.

He said: ’Recognising that we have a skills shortage is not the same as encouraging and allowing free movement, which is what we need. The future isn’t the past with people in little offices with a job for life: instead we architects work in different ways on short, medium and long-term contracts; that means we need the freedom to be agile and work wherever we need.’

RIBA President, Ben Derbyshire, said he was ‘encouraged’ that the MAC had included architects on the list. ’This is a positive development for architects trying to navigate the UK’s complex and burdensome immigration system.

’We will continue to urge the MAC to drop their £30,000 suggested salary threshold, as we are concerned that it will lock out young talent, especially outside of London. This is a critical time for our country and our sector - we urgently need an approach to immigration that attracts a broad range of international talent.’

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Quite why, when architects are paid such a pittance, would it be a cause for celebration when more are recruited to these shores?
    More designers mean lower wages all round.

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  • The review states that "In our call for evidence online forms, shortages of architects were mentioned in 62 times. Almost all of the responses focussed on landscaping architects" and also that "this shortage can be overcome in the foreseeable future by continued change in recruitment practices, pay and other measures to increase occupational attractiveness of the industry".

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  • Is it the first of April?! This has to be a joke...we need more architects like a hole in the head in this country. Or do the big commercial practices want even cheaper foreign workstation fodder to increase their profit margins? Architects with any sense have moved on to niches with more ‘occupational attractiveness’. Does Bennie Darbyshire think this is going to increase the RIBA’s coffers?

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  • More architects needed? There is an oversupply of architects in the UK!

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