Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Immigration pledge does not go far enough

Was the recent general election result a setback for the construction sector?

There seems to be a lot of concern that a minority Conservative government, supported by the DUP, will be too weak to drive through a substantive legislative agenda at a time when our industry can ill afford timidity or paralysis.

One possible advantage of the new dynamic in the Commons, however, is that we might now avoid the ‘hard Brexit’ Theresa May sought a mandate for.

The Federation of Master Builders has been urging the government to build in some flexibility to a post-Brexit immigration policy.

Yet it was difficult to see how such tractability could be achieved while an intractable immigration target of tens of thousands was being pursued.

Particularly in London and the South-east, the concern was that the supply of labour from the European Union – so crucial in plugging the skills gaps up until now – would suddenly become a lot harder to access, especially for smaller firms unable to deal with costly or complex bureaucratic visa procedures.

Business first?

There now exists the possibility of a ‘business-first’ Brexit – one that is more receptive to the needs of our industry.

Ideally, this would mean an immigration system that continues to allow EU migrants with the required skills to come to the UK, although we recognise that some change is necessary given that the government has committed to ending freedom of movement.

What’s important is that the government does not simply extend the ‘Tier 2’ system currently in place for the majority of non-EU workers. This system does not work for small firms, as workers must already have a skilled job offer and a certificate of sponsorship from a UK employer before entering the country.

“We need a stronger signal from the government that the UK remains a welcome place for talented workers, especially in light of a declining pound weakening the appeal of a career here”

It isn’t practical to expect small businesses to advertise for new staff on an international level, competing for new recruits against large firms with slick recruitment processes. And it should not be taken for granted that EU workers will continue to want to come to this country in the shorter term.

We know from the recent Queen’s Speech that EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years or more will have the right to remain. But what about the much-needed bricklayers and carpenters who might have been considering a move to the UK to build a new life in 2017? Surely the five-year rule will put many of them off.

Realistic approach

Recent stats from the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory show a 35 per cent fall in the number of national insurance numbers being issued to those from the EU8 countries that joined the union in 2004. These are the countries that have typically supplied the bulk of EU migrant labour.

We need a stronger signal from the government that the UK remains open for business and a welcome place for talented workers to move to, especially in light of a declining pound weakening the appeal of a career here.

Working with the government on its industrial strategy and its renewed commitment to high standards of training is a priority for the FMB.

Nevertheless, we must be realistic.

A flourishing construction industry relies upon having a skilled workforce. That means taking a pragmatic approach to immigration now and for the foreseeable future.

Brian Berry is chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.