Call to relax construction visas post-Brexit
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Construction companies want to see visas for workers made simpler and have called for more “breathing space” on restrictions following the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU).
That’s according to a new report from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which has warned that making the hiring of migrant workers too bureaucratic could harm the government’s house building and infrastructure targets.
The Migration and Construction report found that just 3% of construction employers have the necessary experience in handling visa applications, with two-thirds saying that the process is difficult.
Employers will have to learn how to manage visa applications for EU workers under the new post-Brexit immigration system, which is due to be introduced in January 2021.
The report made three key recommendations:
- The post-Brexit immigration white paper proposal for a ‘low-skilled’ visa of 12 months should be extended to 24 months.
- That non-UK born workers entering the UK on a ‘low skilled’ visa be allowed to transition to a ‘high skilled’ visa while remaining in the UK.
- That an ‘Umbrella Sponsorship’ scheme to allow self-employed non-UK workers to obtain sponsorship should be created.
It found that 70% of employers of non-UK born construction workers see the ‘low skilled’ visa for people with level 2 qualifications unsuitable for their business. In particular, the 12 month time limit would be too short because training new workers will take much of that time, and many projects last longer than a year.
It also discovered that 61% of migrants would choose to move from a ‘low’ to a ‘high’ skilled visa while continuing to work in the UK. Over 43% of migrant workers are just one qualification level away from being able to do this. Construction employers want to see flexibility in the new system to enable migrant workers to stay in the UK to take the qualifications they need to become more highly skilled and contribute to construction growth, the report claimed.
And the report determined that nearly half (41%) of EU migrant workers in construction are self-employed meaning that under current plans, they may be lost to the sector because there is no visa system to cover them.
CITB policy director, Steve Radley, said: “The industry is gearing up to face this challenge by training more home-grown workers. The intention is to have an extra 44,000 more British-based people in construction by 2025. This will be achieved through a mix of growing apprenticeships and widening the pool of talent, retaining more workers in the sector for longer, and exploiting technological advances.”
But he added: “Migrant workers have long played a key role in the UK’s construction sector. They make up 14% of the construction workforce, a percentage that rises to 54% in London. They give employers the flexibility to respond quickly to skills needs.
“Employers are raising real concerns about the future 12-month visa scheme. They want to see it extended to 24 months, and for workers to be given the opportunity to ‘train to remain’. A new scheme must additionally be put in place to enable self-employed migrants to work in the sector.
“It’s important that construction has the breathing space to adjust to new changes. CITB will work closely with Government to see that a simple, flexible migration system is put in place to support employers’ skills requirements, while industry grows its domestic workforce.”
Mark Reynolds, Mace chief executive and Construction Leadership Council skills lead, said: “The successful delivery of the UK’s infrastructure pipeline and major construction projects depends on the construction industry’s ability to hire and retain the right mix of talent and skills once we leave the EU. This report from CITB is a timely call to action for the government to ensure that a flexible post-Brexit immigration system is in place.
“It is particularly important that the new immigration system allows for a period of adjustment to the changes and that we don’t lose access to the thousands of self-employed non-UK workers. I would strongly encourage the government to consider extending the terms of the low-skilled visa from 12 to 24 months and to introduce an ‘Umbrella Sponsorship’ system that will allow self-employed non-UK workers to obtain sponsorship.”