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Government urged to rethink Brexit skilled migration restrictions

BESA has backed calls from the Construction Leadership Council for a rethink of immigration rules to prevent a drastic shortfall in industry skills amidst the continued threat of a no-deal Brexit

The construction sector could face drastic shortages in skilled labour unless the government can amend existing immigration policies in case of a ’no deal’ Brexit, building services body BESA has warned.

BESA has said that urgent amendments are needed with regard to current qualification requirements and salary caps introduced by government to limit migration in order to ensure a sufficient number of skilled workers will be available after the UK leaves the EU.

Existing restrictions for construction workers coming to work in the country should be reduced to NVQ level 2 with the current salary threshold for classifying a skilled worker also needing to be lowered below the current £30,000 annual salary, according to BESA’s recommendations.

The organisation’s calls follow the publication of findings produced by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) warning of the anticipated increased difficulty in finding sufficient numbers of skilled workers to work in areas such as construction and HVAC. This concerns are related to the UK government failing to reach a withdrawal with the EU over the next month.

The CLC, which is made up of industry experts and companies from across the entire construction sector, has urged industry to be “proactive” in helping existing and eligible EU employees secure a settled status in the UK, as well as reviewing the effectiveness of existing immigration system.

The group added that the UK is already facing a shortage of skills and labour, with a continuing failure to reach an agreement on how it will look to leave the EU creating further concerns about capability to meet demand in a cost-effective manner.

BESA added that it backed the challenges proposed within the CLC report concerning how the notion of a skilled worker in the construction sector is defined under immigration laws.

Tony Howard, the organisation’s training director, said government fundamentally did not understand the concept of skilled workers in construction-related trades.

He said, “Many of the people labelled as ‘low skilled’ by the Prime Minister recently actually bring essential craft skills to our critical construction and infrastructure projects.

“At the moment, government Brexit policy risks excluding Level 2 tradespeople like plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters. Losing thousands of those could be catastrophic and put the delivery of many UK projects at risk.”

Calls in the CLC’s findings, such as backing an extension of short-term worker plans to 24 months, are intended to help alleviate existing uncertainty in the industry and among workers, while ensuring some mutual recognition qualifications in the UK and the EU even in the case of a ‘no deal’.

Mr Howard said that BESA was aware of a need to develop long-term training and recruitment of UK workers, but immediate industry needs also had to be addressed.

He said, “We also have urgent short-term needs that could be seriously undermined without access to EU migrant workers.”

No deal concerns

A range of industry bodies and manufacturers from across the HVACR sector have in recent months been calling for Prime Minister Theresa May and her government to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit at all costs.

Bodies such as BESA and the Euris Network, which brings together manufacturers and engineers from a range of sectors, have warned that leaving the EU without any kind of withdrawal agreement would be a worst-case scenario for a HVAC industry that is reliant on the free movement of goods and services between member states.

The Prime Minister has this week said that parliament could vote on March 12 whether to temporarily delay the current exit date from the EU, pass a withdrawal agreement already rejected in the House of Commons, or proceed to leave without an agreement being reached.

With this next vote scheduled for just under two weeks before the UK leaves the EU on March 29, MPs will later today be discussing the possibility of amendments before this date to try and give earlier clarity on a timetable for Brexit.


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