Ross Keatley of the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation made up of immigration solicitors, examines the potential impact of Brexit on the construction and engineering workforce
With the summer focus on the Conservative Party leadership contest, it might be easy to forget that the delayed Brexit date of 31 October is already fast approaching. Businesses are still crying out for clarity and recent advice from the Migration Advisory Committee goes some way to achieving this. However, without a clear line from the government, the construction and civil engineering sector still stand on a cliff edge.
Last Summer, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) released a report, investigating the impact of Brexit on the construction and engineering sector. The report highlighted foreign employees make up 15% of the UK construction industry’s workforce – of which 51% are from an EU country.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has also previously suggested that the UK construction industry could lose 200,000 EU workers post-Brexit, accounting for approximately 8% of its total workforce. This skills gap will affect almost all parts of the sector. Currently, overseas workers fill a range of jobs in the construction industry; including 40% of general and 11% of skilled labourers and tradespeople, 11% of architects, and 11% of civil engineers.
What does the Migration Advisory Committee’s report tell us?
This May, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended revisions to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The SOL is used by the government to assess the need for non-EEA overseas talent in the UK. Where roles are included, those applying for a Tier 2 visa (the most common form of UK work visa) enjoy relaxed restrictions and reduced visa fees.
The MAC recommends extending several job categories on the SOL, including those under the civil engineering category. In theory, if the MAC’s recommendations are implemented by the government, non-EEA construction and engineering professionals may be encouraged to work in the UK.
However, these changes do not factor in how Brexit – and the end of free movement– will impact skills gaps within the sector. Currently, EEA nationals make up almost 10% of the industry’s workforce, according to EngineeringUK.
What about after Brexit?
After the end of free movement, the most recent government advice tells us that all new EEA nationals wishing to work in the UK will need to meet the same requirements like those from outside the EEA. This involves applying for work visas for themselves and their families.
And the cost of doing this is not cheap. Even with the SOL reduced fee, the Tier 2 Work visa is £464 for a single applicant and a further £464 for each dependent. The application cost for settled status is £2,389 for a single applicant, and again the same amount for each dependent. Lastly, the British citizenship application fee is £1,330 – with a further £1,330 per dependent.
These costs are highly likely to make talented EU nationals turn away from the UK and instead take on work in other European countries, such as Germany, Belgium or France, that have no restrictions on freedom of movement.
Is there any good news?
In short, yes. The MAC’s report certainly takes an important step towards securing the future of the construction and engineering sector, but it doesn’t go far enough. Both the MAC and UK government must seriously think through how the sector will continue to thrive – or even stay afloat – after Brexit.
It is difficult for industry leaders and employers to determine the best course of action to minimise disruption and avoid lasting damage. Until a final decision is made by the UK government and its EU counterparts on Brexit, the future of the construction and civil engineering sector remains gloomy with uncertainty.
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