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Mon February 17 2020

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Contractors see hope for more relaxed immigration rules

29 Jan Civil engineering contractors have ‘cautiously welcomed’ a report published by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee setting out its recommendation for post-Brexit immigration rules.

The report, A Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration, focuses on the UK’s future skills-based work migration system once the Brexit transition period ends. It makes recommendations around the possible role of a points-based immigration system and the appropriate level and design of salary thresholds.

The MAC recommends for those with an existing job offer:

  • a decrease in the salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600 on the general work visa
  • an expansion of the general work visa to include many construction skills
  • the salary requirements for new entrants to be reduced and to allow for workers to achieve recognised qualifications.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “The conclusions and recommendations of this report demonstrate that the needs of the construction sector have been heard by the committee.

“We anticipate that if these recommendations are adopted by government, a number of construction companies will still be able to find the skills they need to deliver the world class infrastructure our country so desperately needs.”

There is, however, no indication from the government that it will accept any of the MAC’s recommendations. Lobby briefings indicate that the Home Office is not keen.

Marie-Claude Hemming continued: “We express some concern that the ‘low-skilled’ route is not discussed as part of the review, and that the Shortage Occupation List will not be reviewed until a new migration system has embedded, but recognise that further analysis is needed by industry to fully understand the impact of these proposed changes.”

The MAC said that it did not believe that occupations on the SOL should have lower salary thresholds, as it exempts them from pressure to increase wages, or improve conditions, which could exacerbate any existing shortages.

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The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) was also ‘encouraged’ by the MAC recommendations. FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “Construction workers of all skill levels from labourers to site managers will be needed to deliver the Government’s ambitious housing and infrastructure targets. While there is much more to do to train up our domestic workforce, skill shortages and an ageing demographic will mean the construction sector will still need access to workers from outside the UK.

“Salary is not always a true reflection of skill, so it is very welcome that the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended that the salary threshold be reduced to £25,600. More than half of FMB members said that a £30,000 salary was higher than what they would typically pay, so it’s good that these proposals now reflect reality. It is also encouraging that the MAC has recommended that 'medium-skilled' roles such as carpenters and painters should be eligible for skilled visas.”

Brian Berry concluded: “The temporary visa route remains a concern, however. This route will need to have a path to permanent settlement otherwise many workers will simply choose to work elsewhere. The government should consider giving temporary migrants the opportunity to complete training and settle on a skilled visa while remaining in the UK.”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: “Businesses know free movement is ending. A new immigration system that is fair and sustainable from day one is as important for many firms as our future trading relationships.

“Reducing the headline salary threshold will be welcomed by businesses, which argued that a £30,000 cap would be damaging. Yet even with a commitment to world class business training, it remains unclear how firms can hire for mid-skilled roles such as LGV drivers, joiners and lab technicians who don’t meet the £25,600 test.

“Flexibility will be needed to build a system that lets wages rise where there are shortages while helping businesses to access the skills and labour needed to grow all parts of the UK.”

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