Construction industry lobby groups including Build UK and the FMB have joined business leaders from across the economy in a concerted bid to get their way over immigration policy.
With the UK leaving the European Union there is no longer any requirement for it to support the free movement of the people of the EU. Many Britons would like to see a clampdown on immigration; business leaders and employers generally take a more relaxed view as they welcome access to the widest possible labour market and talent pool.
Today more than 30 trade associations have joined forces to write an open letter to home secretary Priti Patel suggesting that they should be allowed to help design the new immigration rules.
The signatories include Build UK, the Federation of Master Builders, the Construction Products Association and the British Property Federation, along with the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, Make UK and many others.
The letter says: “Business understands that the immigration system must change in order to re-build public confidence. Insight from enterprise can help build a points-based model that provides greater control, whilst providing access to the labour and skills needed to support the economy. And this can go hand in hand with a continued determination to invest in training home grown talent.
The business leaders propose a policy based on four priorities. To quote the letter, these are:
“A minimum salary threshold set at a level that supports the economy and protects wages – the right threshold can provide confidence that migrants are not accepting wages lower than those of UK workers. This is currently achieved in the non-EU immigration system by requiring a salary that is both higher than 25% of people in the same occupation and higher than 25% of jobs across all occupations of the relevant skill level. The Migration Advisory Committee already recommends lowering the skill level to ‘A-Level’ or equivalent to secure a work visa post-Brexit. Following this tried and tested formula would mean that a worker from overseas would have to earn both more than £20,100 and more than 25% of people doing the same job. This would protect wages and ensure that shortages in jobs such as technicians, carpenters, translators and care-home managers can be addressed.
“Flexibility for skilled workers to enter the UK through a points-based system – salary isn’t the only way to predict somebody’s contribution, so an ability to hire people with lower salaries based on their qualifications, work experience and other attributes is welcome. This must add flexibility for businesses to hire the labour and skills they need, rather than be an additional requirement. A new unsponsored points-based route for skilled workers is particularly important for smaller businesses and should also be added. Additionally, lowering the salary threshold for shortage occupations is a principle we warmly support.
“A temporary visa route which supports all sectors of the economy – extending this unsponsored route from one to two years will encourage migrant workers to integrate into local communities whilst also ensuring they are more productive, rather than businesses having to constantly start over by hiring new people. Making this route available to all sectors, with a cooling-off period reduced to six months, will help companies plug vital skills and labour gaps. In-country switching to the skilled worker visa, if the eligibility criteria is subsequently met, should also be allowed.
“A reformed sponsorship process – the government’s ambition to radically simplify the current sponsorship system is both welcome and essential to reduce cost and complexity for firms hiring from overseas. Completing and testing these reforms before switching to the new system will help smaller companies avoid expensive legal advice. Minor adjustments to the existing non-EU visa route would be insufficient and act as a major barrier to accessing the skills needed to grow the economy.”
The letter concludes: “The economy needs a simple, streamlined and affordable system that meets business’ needs of all sizes, sectors and across all UK regions and nations. We look forward to working with the new government to inform the detailed design of a new immigration system in a way that commands public confidence and supports the UK’s global ambitions.”