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Sat May 15 2021

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Cheap labour not welcome under new immigration rules

19 Feb 20 From 1st January 2021 any construction company wanting to employ a foreign national in the UK will have to give them a full-time job and pay them at least £25,600 a year.

EU nationals will no longer be able to move freely to the UK
EU nationals will no longer be able to move freely to the UK

Home secretary Priti Patel has rebuffed industry lobbying and says there will be no more reliance on imported cheap labour.

Under a new points-based system, those looking to live and work in the UK will now need to be qualified up to RQF3 (A level or equivalent), rather than degree level under the current system.

Piling on the clichés, Priti Patel said: “We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down. We will attract the brightest and the best from around the globe, boosting the economy and our communities, and unleash this country’s full potential.”

Priority will be given to “those with the highest skills and the greatest talents, including scientists, engineers and academics”.

The message is clear: low skill workers will not be welcome to the UK, however much we need hospitals to be cleaned or schoolchildren to be fed.

All immigrants will also have to demonstrate an ability to speak the English language (which may add a new dimension to Premier League scouting networks).

Yesterday we reported on the extent of the skills shortage being felt by civil engineering contractors. Building firms are equally concerned about losing access to foreign labour.

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said: "If we are to have an infrastructure revolution and build a million new homes over the next five years, we will need to have an immigration system that allows for key construction workers of all skill levels to come UK. Today’s announcement that there will no longer be a route for ‘low skill’ workers to come to the U.K. after next year will hamper the construction industry’s capacity to deliver on key projects."

He added: "We will need general labourers as much as architects or surveyors. They are a core part of the construction industry and it’s simply unrealistic to assume the domestic workforce will fill this gap in the next nine months.”

Even the government's own Construction Leadership Council, a panel of industry executives hand-picked by ministers, thinks the new system is flawed. Mace chief executive Mark Reynold, speaking on behalf of the leadership council, said: “The new system is likely to make it harder for the UK construction sector to deliver the homes and infrastructure we so desperately need. We welcome the salary thresholds being lowered to £25,600 in line with the MAC [Migration Advisory Committee] recommendations. However the decision to set skills thresholds to RQF3-5 is a disappointment, as it disregards skilled trades such as bricklayers and carpenters are qualified to level RQF2. This decision will impact on the ability of the sector to deliver the homes we so desperately need to solve the housing crisis.”

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Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner took to Twitter to point out that approximately 10% of the UK construction workforce are foreigners, with up to half the workforce on some sites in London.

“As such, closing door potentially creates labour market pressures,” he tweeted. “However, despite how this is being presented, I’m not sure how firmly shut the door will be.

“The key point is that the skill level required has moved from RQF6 (essentially degree level) to RQF3 (A-level). This also comes with a salary threshold of £25,600.

“In areas where construction’s use of migrant labour is greatest, wage inflation in recent years means you would struggle to recruit for less than this anyway.

“So the skill requirements will become the main barrier now. Most pinch point skills such as QS and civil engineer are well above threshold.

“Only areas of concern are in some trades – ground worker, construction operative, bricklayer, highways maintenance operative, plant operative.

“In these roles I think one of three things will happen. 1 - the work will be modernised, with technological solutions, 2 - employers will employ higher skilled versions (e.g. level 3 bricklayer rather than level 2), or 3 - wages will rise to meet demand from UK domestic workforce·

“The nature of some of these roles mean that 1 and 2 seem unlikely in the short term. The challenge with 3 is that the economy is at near full employment. Where are these people going to come from?

“So it may be that some stuff just doesn’t get done. What happens when this feeds through to areas where currently migrant workers are providing critical but largely invisible services such as highways maintenance?”

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