The latest UK Shortage Occupation List review recommends veterinarians are included, recognising the industry's increasing difficulty filling roles.

Around 95% of the vets carrying out critical public health work and animal welfare monitoring in abattoirs are from overseas - predominantly the EU.

The committee said it was making its recommendation as it was clear from the evidence submitted that the veterinary profession is already facing significant recruitment difficulties.

However, with more veterinary services expected to be required to facilitate trade post-Brexit those in the industry fear workforces will be stretched even further.

The Home Office will now consider and respond to MAC’s recommendations.

Professions on the list are prioritised for visas required to live and work in the UK. Further, employers wishing to hire professionals on the list are not required to complete the Resident Labour Market Test, meaning they would not have to advertise vacancies locally before offering the role to an employee from overseas.

MAC chairman Prof. Alan Manning said: "Today’s labour market is very different to the one we reviewed when the last Shortage Occupation List was published in 2013.

Unemployment is lower and employers in various industries are facing difficulties in finding skilled people to fill their vacancies.

"That is why we have recommended expanding the list 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 Shortage Occupation List once there is a clearer picture of what the future immigration system will look like."

Industry reaction

The RCVS made a submission to the MAC in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) as part of the MAC’s review into the Shortage Occupation List, which began in autumn 2018.

The submission focused on the need for the UK immigration system to recognise that the veterinary workforce is already under capacity and that this problem is likely to be exacerbated after Brexit.

The organisations warned it was likely Brexit would lead to increased demand for veterinary surgeons in areas such as export certification, at a time when it was likely that fewer vets from the EU would join the register.

It also reiterated the importance of veterinary surgeons in areas such as public health, food safety, disease surveillance and control, as well as education, research, clinical practice and animal welfare.

RCVS president Amanda Boag said: “We are very pleased to see that our submission, made with our colleagues at the BVA, has been welcomed by the committee and that this recommendation will now be going to the key decision-makers at the Home Office for consideration.

"While we are still unaware of how the process of the UK leaving the EU will pan out, this is a very important step in ensuring the future security of the profession and mitigating against worsening workforce shortages.

We would reiterate to the Government that the UK is currently reliant on overseas registrants to meet the demand for veterinary surgeons, with veterinary surgeons from the rest of the EU making up around 50% of new registrants each year.

"By adding veterinary surgeons to the Shortage Occupation List, and, therefore, reducing the immigration requirements needed to live and work in the UK, the Government will be helping ensure vital veterinary work continues to be done particularly in areas such as food safety and public health."

The two organisations will continue to look at how the number of ‘home-grown’ veterinary surgeons can be increased by expanding the UK veterinary education sector, increasing retention rates within the profession, and freeing up vet time by giving more responsibilities to veterinary nurses.

'A huge win for animal welfare'

Simon Doherty, BVA president, said the move would ensure animal welfare standards are maintained post-Brexit.

MAC’s recommendation today is a huge win for animal welfare and a resounding vote of confidence in the veterinary community and the multiple benefits it realises across the UK.

"We are absolutely delighted that the committee has heeded our calls and recognised the need to reinstate vets on the list to keep workforce supply and resilience high in the unpredictable times ahead.

"While this is a very welcome boost, the profession itself is also doing a huge amount of work to understand and address recruitment and retention challenges both now and into the future," he said.