Post-Brexit migration recommendations ‘would cripple construction’

New plans set out by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) for a post-Brexit immigration policy would cripple the construction industry, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

A government-commissioned study which aimed to establish the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration included a number of key recommendations:

  • No preference for EU citizens, assuming that immigration will not be part of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement;

  • Reviewing how the sponsor licensing system works for SMEs;
  • Maintaining existing salary thresholds and extending Tier 2 (General) visas to all jobs at RFQ (Regulated Framework of Qualifications) Level 3 and above;
  • Reviewing the shortage occupation list;
  • Retaining and revaluating the Immigration Skills Charge;

  • Abolishing the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General) visas.
  • Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said the report makes “very worrying reading” for the tens of thousands of small construction firms across the UK who are already deeply concerned about the skills shortage.

    He said: “Its recommendations ignore the pleas of construction employers who have called on the government to introduce a visa system based on key occupations rather than arbitrary skill levels. Instead, the proposal is to apply the Tier 2 immigration system to EU workers, which would be disastrous for small and micro construction firms. Even if tweaked and improved slightly, the Tier 2 system would not make provision for ample numbers of low skilled workers to enter the UK and these are people the construction industry relies upon. For the Government to make good on its construction and house building targets, it will need sufficient numbers of labourers as well as civil engineers and quantity surveyors.”

    Mr Berry said: “It’s not at all clear that EU workers with important skills already in short supply, like bricklaying and carpentry, will not fall foul of a crude and limited definition of ‘high skilled’ worker. In addition, the report explicitly recommends that there should be no migration route for lower skilled workers with a possible exception for seasonal agricultural workers. There is also a vague suggestion that if there was a route for lower skilled workers, it should be aimed at younger people and not be open to workers of all ages. This is far too restrictive and simply won’t meet the needs of the construction industry.”

    He added: “EU workers are vitally important to the UK construction sector. Nine per cent of our construction workers are from the EU and in London, this increases to one third. These workers have played a very significant role in mitigating the severe skills shortages we have experienced in recent years. The construction industry knows it needs to do much more to recruit and train many more domestic workers. However, given the important role migrant workers have played, and the already high levels of employment in the UK workforce, it is crucial that the post-Brexit immigration system allows us to continue to hire workers of varying skill levels, regardless of where they are from.”

    The National Federation of Builders (NFB) said the report highlights the value of migration to small and medium-sized (SMEs) builders and the construction industry. But the body warned that shortage occupation lists must be responsive and visas for self-employed workers need to be clear and comprehensible.

    Focussing on enabling higher-skilled migration while restricting lower-skilled migration, the report does not recommend separate, employer-led sector based routes, for low skilled migrants, with the possible exception of seasonal agricultural workers.

    The MAC also states that 40% of self-employed workers are concentrated in three construction sectors and would typically qualify for a Tier 1 visa. However, due to complexities with the existing scheme, the MAC is unable to make recommendations on how it should be changed.

    Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said: “A lack of skilled workers stifles industry growth and the capacity to build more homes. We welcome the report’s recommendations, including a review into the shortage occupation list and the sponsor licensing system for SMEs.

    “Abolishing the cap of migrants under Tier 2 visas and reviewing shortage occupation lists would signal a positive step but, with the MAC avoiding any recommendation for self-employed workers, the government must provide clarity to a vital part of the construction industry.”

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