Dean Watson looks at immigration and the skills crisis in the construction industry after Brexit.

The Government is committed to spending billions to improve UK infrastructure, opening the door to untold opportunities for construction businesses. The question is, how will new immigration rules impact post-Brexit given the ongoing skills crisis?

Under proposals from the Migration Advisory Committee, EU nationals who want to work in the UK after the transition periods ends (December 31) will need a job offer and sponsorship. The good news is that minimum salary levels will be lowered and with the required skill level reduced to A-Level standard the new system paves the way for site supervisors, carpenters and joiners to work here.
On the flip side, the onus is on employers to ensure that employees from EU countries can prove their right to work in the UK, either by status under the EU Settlement Scheme, proof of arrival in the UK before 31 December 2020 or compliance with new immigration regulations.

Some roles will be precluded from visa sponsorship and self-employed EU workers will also be ruled out by the new system. Meanwhile, sponsorship costs, including the immigration skills charge and health charge, look set to increase.

The government could extend the low-skills visa to two years, to allow workers to qualify for a high-skilled visa once in the UK, but there are no plans to do so. It’s therefore down to individual firms to tackle the skills issue.

Start by confirming the number of EU nationals employed, brief them fully to ensure they understand the EU Settlement Scheme and plan upgrades to systems so that they can cope with more rigorous checks. By recruiting EU national workers now firms can avoid a hike in sponsorship fees. At the very least, they can budget for higher future costs.

Hiring and upskilling British workers is another option. However, it may be easier said than done for smaller contracting firms, which may not have the resources to set up training.

From 2021 it will be harder to attract suitably skilled EU workers, so individual businesses must act now to determine what’s best for them and ensure appropriate resources are in place post-Brexit.

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