Many architects recruiting international talent have been concerned about the impact of salary thresholds within the new immigration system, due to take effect from 1 January 2021. This has been particularly the case outside of London and in smaller practices. With this in mind, this week’s recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on who should be included within the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) have been particularly important.
Inclusion on the list means that there will be a 20% discount on the stated salary threshold for each occupation. The RIBA’s research on the topic, published last year, showed that the average salary for an international architect that had newly entered the UK was £28,000, reflecting the fact that these architects tended to be younger and at the beginning of their careers. Salaries increased in line with UK colleagues as time in work and experience increased.
The government commissioned this review just a few weeks before the height of the pandemic, which we know has had a negative impact on the economy and created uncertainty for many businesses. With that in mind the MAC recommended that occupations that had previously been added to the SOL should remain on the list. This is good news for architects as it means that fully qualified architects remain on the SOL.
How does this work in reality?
From 1 January 2021 the points-based immigration system will be in place in the UK. This means that all international architects who wish to work in the UK, no matter where in the world they are from, will have to gain enough points to do so.
This means an individual will have to acquire 70 points to work in the UK. Of these points, 50 are mandatory and will come from having a job offer, meeting the requisite skill level and speaking English at the required level.
The final 20 points can come from a combination of the role being included on the SOL (20 points), having a PhD (10 or 20 points depending on what sector your PhD is in), and meeting the relevant salary thresholds (0 to 20 depending on your salary).
Therefore, if an international architect wants to come to work in the UK and they have a job offer, meet the required skill level and have adequate English skills, and as architects are on the SOL, they would have the required 70 points.
Why is this important?
International architects make up 25% of architects in the UK. 80% of these are from the EU. Following the EU referendum there has been a decline in EU architects registering to work in the UK. It is unclear how coronavirus will impact on the ability to recruit within the sector.
The UK relies on international talent to help fill specialist or technical skills, such as BIM or conservation skills, or to help fill regional vacancies. Often smaller, regional practices struggle to recruit as talent is drawn to cities with higher salaries. International architects are often happy to work in regional offices to gain experience in the UK.
When is the next review of the SOL?
The MAC recommended that the SOL have a major review every three years and a minor review annually. The next major review will take place in Summer 2022 and will review all the roles already included on the SOL. The annual minor review will allow new occupations to be added, and occupations will not be removed unless prior consultation has taken place.
While these changes will require adjustment for both employers and potential international employees, we now have a good understanding of how the immigration system will work for architects over the next three years.