Immigration rules for Construction Trades could be reviewed

A minister has suggested that after the Covid-19 pandemic the government may be open to reviewing immigration policy for construction workers.

Susan Williams, Lords minister, said the list of occupations which are allowed easier access into the UK in the government’s post-Brexit immigration system could be reviewed after ‘assessing how the UK labour market develops post-covid’.

It could mean that more types of construction workers who are currently based in the EU, including bricklayers and masons, would be allowed to work in the UK.

Freedom of movement between the UK and the EU ended on 31st December last year, with EU and non-EU citizens now being treated equally under the new points based immigration system.

In order to be able to work in the UK under the new rules, foreign nationals must be sponsored by an approved sponsor, must have a job that is deemed to be above a certain skill level and must speak English at the required level.

Exceptions are made for types of workers included on the government’s shortage occupation list, which currently includes civil engineers, mechanical engineers and architects but excludes many construction roles such as bricklayers, plasterers and quantity surveyors.

Nigel Jones, Liberal Democrat peer asked if the government had plans to amend the shortage occupation list to include more construction roles and Williams suggested that the list could be looked at again.

Williams also said: “We do not consider changes to the immigration rules or the shortage occupation list should be made at this time, before assessing how the UK labour market develops post-covid and in response to the introduction of the new points-based immigration system”.

This reply comes after a warning from Gleeds that the new immigration rules could hit firms with additional  costs on projects and possibly hold the industry back for years.

A recent survey published earlier this month revealed that nearly three quarters of respondents believed that there is a shortage of labour in the UK, with 81% reporting concerns that the post-Brexit immigration rules will inevitably lead to worsening shortages and higher construction costs.  Over three-quarters of respondents to the survey also said that they did not expect government apprenticeship incentives for UK workers to fill the shortage.

Douglas McCormick, Gleeds UK executive chairman said he was pleased that the government ‘appears to be prepared to review the issue of immigration rules and their potential detrimental impact on those working in the built environment’.

He also added: “They must keep an open mind as a shortage of talent will inevitably mean heightened labour rates which are likely to impact costs of projects from HS2 to housing”.

The survey which was carried out followed research by the Construction Products Association which found the industry’s EU workforce in the third quarter of last year had dropped by 28% in 12 months.