Prominent figures within the construction industry have warned that new immigration restrictions could make it more difficult to deliver on the nation’s ambitious housebuilding and transport-related targets.
Commenting on the recent announcement from the Home Office regarding the UK’s new points-based immigration system, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), 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 to the UK. Today’s announcement that there will no longer be a route for “low skill” workers 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.”
Advantage has previously looked at the mounting calls to build three million new social homes by 2040 and we’ve written a series of blogs on the substantial challenge the nation faces in terms of supplying sufficient housing to meet our current and future needs. As there were 180,000 EU nationals working in the UK construction industry in 2019 (according to data from the ONS) it is unsurprising that any changes to immigration policy which could affect those workers are watched closely by those within the construction sector.
Construction News reported that: Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) head of policy Sophie Wingfield said the (new immigration) bill could threaten HS2, stating: “In a month where the government has given the go-ahead on HS2, the changes to immigration threaten the viability of the project. The construction industry has high numbers of temporary, self-employed and contract workers – a high proportion of these are EU nationals. The sector is already struggling to fill vacancies ahead of these changes and there is no guarantee EU workers here at the moment will stay.”
However, Construction News noted that The CITB itself was less critical about the changes. CITB strategy and policy director Steve Radley said: “CITB cautiously welcomes lowering the salary threshold for skilled migrants, increasing the number of construction occupations eligible to work in the UK, and the commitment to monitor and respond to skills shortages. These policies are essential in light of the government’s expanded public investment programme and big ambitions for new homes.
“However, we need to see how this will work in practice, and to agree how we can minimise the impact of restrictions on low-skilled workers. We will also work with the government to ensure self-employed people can continue to work in the UK construction industry through a new route that doesn’t require employer sponsorship.”