UK construction skills gap could be helped with temporary visas post-Brexit

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Temporary visas spanning three years after Brexit could help plug the UK construction skills gap, according to a new report from Migrant Watch UK

A think tank has suggested temporary ‘brickie visas’ could help to deal with the UK construction skills gap in the wake of Brexit. This would grant EU nationals entry into the country after Brexit to fill jobs that would not otherwise qualify for a Tier 2-style work permit. The visa would be issued for a year, but could be extended up to a maximum of three. This would help businesses train local workers for unfilled roles.

Migration Watch UK made the suggestion in a new report ‘EU Immigration, Post-Brexit – A Comprehensive Policy’. The think tank suggested the Migration Advisory Committee decide the sectors and occupations that would qualify under the scheme, but said evidence of “genuine attempts” to recruit UK nationals and failing to do so would need to be presented. Furthermore, employers would have to pay an annual levy. This would increase incrementally, making it more financially viable to recruit locally.

The report also recommended this visa should not allow EU workers to claim in-work benefits, tax credits or housing benefits. It would also prevent permanent residence.

Migrant Watch UK’s vice-chair Alp Mehmet said: “Training outside the workplace has fallen off a cliff since 2000. Employers must now step up to the mark.”

Impact of Brexit

The construction industry is made up of a significant amount of smaller building firms. The skills gap post-Brexit is undoubtedly of concern for these SMEs but also for larger firms—particularly those based in the capital—who rely on EU migrant labour.

However, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders Sarah McMonagle said a visa scheme would leave smaller firms struggling to meet the “costly and bureaucratic” process of migrant labour.

Speaking to People Management – CIPD, she said: “Given the dependence that the sector has on non-UK labour, construction SMEs would be concerned if this source of talent was effectively closed off.

“While there is undoubtedly a need to increase the number of people signing up for construction apprenticeships, the transition to a workforce where there are sufficient numbers of trained UK workers to meet demand won’t happen overnight, and government policy must reflect this.”

Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD, said many employers struggled to find suitable applicants in the local area and warned it was “inevitable” there would still be some reliance on EU migrant workers in the long-term.

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