The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) report calls for the proposed one-year visa for ‘low-skilled’ workers to be extended to two years.
It also recommends that non-UK born workers entering the UK on a ‘low skilled’ visa be allowed to transition to a ‘high-skilled’ visa while working in the UK – train to remain.
And it proposes an ‘umbrella sponsorship’ scheme to allow self-employed non-UK workers to obtain the necessary employment sponsorship.
The CITB’s research found that 61% of migrants say they would choose to move from a ‘low’ to a ‘high’ skilled visa while continuing to work in the UK, and that 70% of employers of non-UK born construction workers see the ‘low skilled’ visa for people with level 2 qualifications as unsuitable for their businesses
The research report, Migration and Construction, finds that just 3% of construction employers have the necessary experience in handling visa applications, with two-thirds saying that the process is difficult.
Under the new post-Brexit immigration system – due to be introduced in January 2021 – employers will have to learn how to navigate the bureaucracy of visa applications for all foreign workers.
CITB policy director Steve Radley said: “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.”
Contractors have backed the recommendations
Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said: “The construction and infrastructure sectors have been facing a looming skills gap for some years, and it is deeply concerning that after the UK has left the European Union restrictions may be put in place to prevent non-UK born workers contributing to our industry.
“Currently, non-UK born workers account for 14% of UK construction’s workforce, rising to 54% in London.
“Industry is in the process of moving towards recruiting an extra 44,000 British-based people in construction by 2025 to meet projected demand.
“However for UK construction to achieve this goal while delivering the significant pipeline of projects the UK government has planned, those who currently contribute to our industry and the economic and social wellbeing of us all must be given the opportunity to continue to do so. That’s why we are calling on the government to take steps to ensure industry is ready for the post-Brexit migration landscape, by extending the period in which existing non-UK born workers are able to ‘train to remain.’
“Employers in the construction sector are actively working to grow the domestic workforce, but it will take time to do so. Unless the UK government changes its position, industry will be hamstrung in the immediate post-Brexit period, to the detriment of its ability to drive growth and deliver for the UK economy.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “The CITB report is absolutely right to highlight the barriers facing construction employers needing to employ non-UK workers. The government needs to look again at its post-Brexit immigration system to make it easier and simpler for small building companies needing to recruit non-UK labour. There is currently a serious skills crisis in the building industry which explains why 9% of the construction workforce is made up of EU workers. Given it takes many years to train a high-quality tradesperson there will, in the short term at least, continue be an urgent need to recruit non-UK labour. Without this labour the industry will not be able to deliver the homes and key infrastructure projects that are needed to underpin the UK’s national productivity and growth."
Mr Berry concluded: “The current non-EU migration system is exceptionally difficult for small employers to engage with taking as long as eight months in some instances to secure specialist tradespeople to come to the UK to work on sites. Most small businesses simply don’t have the time and resources to take that on. It would be very damaging just to extend this system to EU workers without seriously reforming it. Extending ‘low skilled’ visas from 12 months to 24 months; allowing non-UK born workers the opportunity to transition to a ‘high skilled’ visa; and the creation of an ‘umbrella sponsorship’ scheme would help ease concerns about how construction companies are going to fill the skills gaps.”