Labour shortages and immigration policy: Recommendations of the UK’s new Migration Advisory Committee

Protest sign for worker's rights
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Protest sign for worker's rights


by Martin Ruhs

Public discourse and policy debates on labour immigration often involve claims about the “need” for migrants to “help fill labour and skills shortages” and/or to “do the jobs that locals will not or cannot do.”  How can such claims be assessed and what are the implications for labour immigration policy? In the UK, the Government recently set up the Migration Advisory Committee  (MAC), a body of independent economists tasked to advise the Government where in the UK economy there are skilled labour shortages that can be ‘sensibly’ filled by migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Under its current remit, the MAC’s advice pertains to skilled labour immigration only (Tier 2 of the UK’s new points-based system for managing immigration).  


In early September 2008, the MAC published its first major report with a recommended list of “shortage occupations” that, in the view of the MAC, are skilled, suffer from a shortage of labour, and where it is sensible to use migrants from outside the EEA to fill the shortages. The Government is currently considering the MAC’s recommendations and will publish a final list of shortage occupations before introducing Tier 2 of the points-based system later this year.  

Assessing staff shortages and the implications for labour immigration policy are extremely complex issues. The MAC’s first report and shortage occupations list have triggered considerable public debate. The full report runs over 300 pages with detailed explanations of how the MAC reached its conclusions. Below is a list of web-links to the full report and related documents:


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Martin Ruhs Ph.D., University of Cambridge, is a Senior Labour Market Economist at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and a member of the British Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).