Builders welcome plans to loosen immigration barriers for construction workers

Builders welcome plans to loosen immigration barriers for construction workers

The UK Government’s proposed loosening of immigration rules will be a positive boost for the construction sector which is struggling to recruit enough workers, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

According to reports, Rishi Sunak’s government is understood to be planning to add construction workers to a “shortage occupation list” in a bid to tackle the acute lack of workers since Brexit which caused many European labourers to return to the EU.

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended that bricklayers, plasterers, roofers and other construction workers should be added to the shortage list, according to the Financial Times.

Citing government insiders, the newspaper said home secretary Suella Braverman is expected to accept the idea of allowing building firms to bring in more overseas workers.

The shortage occupation list allows companies to get visas for staff being paid the lower threshold of £20,480 a year. The salary needed to obtain a “skilled worker” visa is £25,600.

The construction body has been pushing hard for industry workers to be added to the shortage list. Federation of Master Builders has previously said it was a mistake for the government to cut off labour from the EU after Brexit without addressing the UK’s skills shortage.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 42% fall in the number of EU nationals working in UK construction between 2017 and the end of 2020.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB said: “The government’s proposal to allow more foreign workers into the UK will help address the current skills shortages in the construction industry. The construction sector needs tens of thousands of new entrants every year to meet current demands. The FMB and other industry stakeholders have called on the Migration Advisory Committee to review the Shortage of Occupation List and to include more trades such as bricklayers and carpenters to help boost economic growth.

“In the recent FMB State of Trade Survey, 48% of small builders reported being in favour of increased immigration provided this was underpinned by better investment in skills training. With core skills in short supply, as evidenced by the fact that around a third of FMB members are struggling to hire carpenters and bricklayers, this is causing 60% of jobs to be delayed, curtailing the ability of the building industry to grow. While immigration will help grow the construction sector, there still needs to be investment in UK-based training to train the next generation of builders.”

A spokesperson for the Home Builders Federation added: “If we are to increase housing supply and deliver the government’s housing target it is essential we have continued access to skilled labour from abroad.

“The industry is working hard to ensure that there is sufficient depth in the home-grown workforce but in the interim, access to foreign labour is required to plug capacity gaps.”

Asked about the recommendation to allow more construction workers in, a government spokesperson said: “We work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure our points-based system delivers for the UK and works in the best interests of the economy, by prioritising the skills and talent we need and encouraging long-term investment in the domestic workforce.

“This includes reviewing the shortage occupation list to ensure it reflects the current labour market. The MAC has published its call for evidence and we encourage all interested parties to respond.”

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