The UK government is drawing up plans to loosen immigration rules to tackle chronic shortages in the construction industry, amid concerns that encouraging Britons to go back to work won’t be enough to plug the gaps.
The Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the government on immigration, has recommended that tradespeople including carpenters, bricklayers and roofers should be added to the “shortage occupation list,” according to a person familiar with the matter.
The list allows employers to bring in foreign workers on a lower salary threshold than the usual “skilled worker” level and pay lower visa fees. Ministers are weighing up the proposals from the committee, according to the person.
The move, first reported by the Financial Times late Wednesday, risks sparking controversy in the ruling Conservative Party so soon after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared a crackdown on illegal migration.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to outline measures in his budget on March 15 to encourage economically inactive people back into work, but the government believes targeted immigration in key sectors will also now be required.
The number of working age people neither in work nor looking for a job since February 2020 has risen by 520,000, according to the most recent data. That’s set to get worse: By 2026 there will be 726,000 more inactive people in the UK aged between 16 and 64 years old than before the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics said this month.
Current jobs on the shortage occupation list include health and care workers, civil engineers, vets and architects.
A government spokesperson said in an emailed statement: “We work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to ensure our points based system delivers for the UK and works in the best interests of the economy, by prioritising the skills and talent we need and encouraging long-term investment in the domestic workforce.
“This includes reviewing the shortage occupation list to ensure it reflects the current labor market. The MAC has published its call for evidence and we encourage all interested parties to respond.”