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Migration experts recognise vet shortages

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By Josh Loeb

Veterinary employers look set to find it easier to recruit from outside the EU after government migration advisers recommended restoring vets to the Shortage Occupation List.

A report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), released this week, was immediately hailed by the BVA as a ‘huge win for animal welfare and a resounding vote of confidence in the veterinary community’.

Restoring vets to the list had been a top priority for the association, and the report had been hotly anticipated for months.

The MAC ranked vets at number 44 in a league table of 105 occupations reported to have shortages, with the occupation at the top of the table (computer programmers and software development professionals) judged as being most eligible for inclusion in the list while the occupation at the bottom (librarians) was assessed as least eligible.

The MAC’s recommendation means key stakeholders in the profession who have in the past cited strong anecdotal evidence that employers are finding it difficult to fill vacancies can now back up their claims with hard statistical data from independent experts.

Though the Home Office could still potentially decide not to accept the MAC’s recommendation, Vet Record understands that the department has never in the past rejected a MAC recommendation of this kind.

The list, which catalogues occupations that the government officially recognises as suffering from a significant shortage of qualified personnel, represents a means of prioritising some jobs over others. Certain benefits are accrued to applicants and employers when their occupation is added to the list.

For example, applicants are exempted from the minimum income threshold of £35,000 that some non-EU migrants must currently demonstrate that they will earn annually before being allowed to immigrate to the UK.

Applicants and their families face lower visa application fees and can be prioritised for visas in certain situations. Even asylum seekers – who are normally not allowed to work in the UK – can apply for permission to work in occupations represented on the list after 12 months in the country (within certain parameters).

Employers, meanwhile, benefit by being exempted from a requirement to advertise vacancies locally before offering the role to an overseas employee.

Vets were removed from the list in 2011 after the MAC assessed that there were sufficient numbers working in the UK to meet demand. However, both the BVA and RCVS have since called for vets to be reinstated, citing an apparent high level of unfilled vacancies and lack of suitable applications for many advertised roles.

In his introduction to the report, entitled ‘Full review of the Shortage Occupation List’, MAC chair Alan Manning said the labour market had changed noticeably over the past six years, with unemployment having fallen, vacancies now higher and EU free movement ‘no longer providing the ready supply of workers it once did for some employers’.

In addition, he said, there is uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the future immigration system. However, he noted that the MAC’s recommendations only applied under the current immigration system, which incorporates EU free movement.

BVA president Simon Doherty said he was ‘absolutely thrilled’ by the MAC’s recommendation.

This is a very important step in ensuring the future security of the profession

The association had submitted evidence to the MAC in conjunction with the RCVS, whose president Amanda Boag said the recommendation was ‘a very important step in ensuring the future security of the profession and mitigating against worsening workforce shortages’.

Around 95 per cent of the vets carrying out critical public health work and animal welfare monitoring in abattoirs hail from overseas, predominantly the EU.

Lewis Grant, from the Veterinary Public Health Association, said: ‘In the event of the UK leaving the EU, there will be greatly increased requirements for veterinary certification, meaning that extra veterinary resources will be required.

‘It is therefore very clear from a public health standpoint that if vets are not on the shortage list then it would cause difficulties in guaranteeing to provide OV cover in those establishments where veterinary presence is mandatory, as well as difficulties in providing necessary veterinary certification.’

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