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CN Briefing: skilled migrant workers; Migration Advisory Committee; design and development engineers

A report out today recommends that employers be charged £1,000 for each skilled migrant worker they bring into the UK from outside the European Economic Area.

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee says the charge would ‘incentivise’ UK employers to recruit home-grown workers.

The committee also wants to increase the salary threshold for these ‘tier 2’ migrant workers from just over £20,000 to £30,000 and place restrictions on ‘intra-company transfers’.

Furthermore, it recommends extending the qualifying period for companies looking to use intra-company transfers from 12 months to 2 years.

The report finds that design and development engineers are the occupation most likely to be in shortage in the UK and argues against a ‘sunset clause’ that would see jobs on the shortage occupation list be automatically withdrawn after a certain timeframe.

One line in particular caught my eye in the report.

We all know that the construction industry is facing a massive shortage of skills in areas like design and engineering, so it was a bit of a shock to see this: ”While partner evidence suggests that there is no broad labour shortage in the construction industry…”

This matters because certain sectors – I’m thinking of electrification and new nuclear as examples – rely hugely on overseas expertise from further afield than the EU.

The report, therefore, could have major implications for companies like Carillion or Keltbray, or any firm looking to bring in skilled workers from, say, Canada or the US in areas like overhead line electrification.

It also has ramifications for the major contractors and consultants looking to import and export expertise between their offices around the globe and, by association, for London’s continued prosperity.

Multinational firms are currently allowed to transfer ‘key personnel’ from overseas offices to the UK for temporary periods but not to fill permanent UK vacancies; this helps in any sector that is subject to cyclical spending patterns.

In other sectors, such as nuclear, it’s a different story. The UK hasn’t built a new reactor for decades, while non-EU superpower China is firing up more than 100 over the next decade, so clearly has the expertise to lend a helping hand.

Among those to caution the committee in its report-gathering stage were companies like Westinghouse and Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions.

The latter said: “With an increasing demand on the power sector, the UK cannot meet the demands of the work programme by utilising skilled resident labour only; having access to additional migrant resources is essential.”

Furthermore, consider the 2015 CIOB analysis on migration in the construction sector that stated: “Tight regulation of migration would damage construction activity in the UK.”

Immigration is fast becoming the world’s biggest political issue, in which politicians are just as likely to issue short-termist edicts to appease voters as they are to think about long-term implications.

There are long-term implications for the UK’s infrastructure, and thus its economic growth, in restricting the movement of skilled migrant workers into this country.

But unless the industry shouts, the impact on construction will likely be overlooked.

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