Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has called on the government to abandon its proposed curb on construction workers coming to the UK after Brexit.
Last week prime minister Theresa May announced the government would adopt new immigration rules post-Brexit that would effectively stop ‘lower-skilled’ workers – which includes all construction site trades – coming to the UK.
She said: “The new skills-based system will make sure low-skilled immigration is brought down and set the UK on the path to reduce immigration to sustainable levels.”
Speaking exclusively to Construction News, Sir Vince said Mrs May was “obsessed” with numbers when it came to immigration policy and there was no case for blocking construction workers.
“The economic needs of the country do not call for a crackdown on construction workers,” he said.
With government guidelines currently classing all site trades as lower skill, they are also barred from obtaining tier two work visas, which would be the main route for migrant workers into the UK after the implementation period ends in 2021.
Sir Vince said this needed to be changed.
“Assuming Brexit happens – some of us are trying to stop it – then it [immigration policy] would need to be a lot more flexible with the tier two visa system than they are at the moment,” he said.
He warned that if the current policy was not changed, construction could be the industry worst-affected.
“An arbitrary cut-off at £30,000 or an arbitrary distinction between skilled and un-skilled leaves some industries in a serious predicament,” he said.
“The most serious is in the construction industry.”
Sir Vince joins construction industry bodies and chief executives in calling for the government to change its planned immigration policy.
The UK has come to rely on construction workers from overseas to meet demand, the former business secretary said, and would continue to need them for years to come.
“In the wake of the financial crisis, large numbers of people in the industry lost their jobs and became taxi drivers and whatever, and a lot of them haven’t come back,” he said.
“Years if not decades of under-investment in the construction labour force has created serious bottlenecks, and we’ve been relying on migrants to fill the gaps and in the medium term we will continue to need them.”
Sir Vince said Mrs May policy showed that the needs of the construction sector were not high on the government’s list of priorities.