Migration Advisory Committee recommendations – will they trigger a very large hole in the construction sector?
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been tasked with looking at ways to reduce migration through the sponsored worker route, under Tier 2 of the UK’s Points Based System. This is a route that is used by UK businesses to fill skill gaps in shortage occupations and roles for which they have been unable to recruit a worker from the UK or Europe.
Tier 2 is designed for skilled workers; jobs must be at graduate level and carry a minimum salary of £20,800.
Many industries – including construction, engineering, nursing and teaching – rely heavily on recruitment under Tier 2 to fill gaps in their workforce. The construction industry has seen significant growth in the last 12 months, with a renewed appetite for investment in residential and commercial property and large infrastructure projects.
As net migration figures continue to rise, the MAC was asked to look at Tier 2 – part of the Government’s wild-goose chase to bring net migration into the tens of thousands.
The headline recommendations from the MAC are that:
- The minimum salary threshold should rise by 50%, from the current £20,800 to £30,000; and
- An Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) of £1,000 per worker should be introduced, to act as a skills levy on employers using migrant labour.
Many jobs currently filled by overseas nationals in the construction sector carry salary rates that fall well below £30,000. There is a real concern that these proposals would result in deeper skills shortages in the sector, and limit the growth that could be achieved if essential recruitment were possible.
The Government’s answer is that the construction sector should recruit from the UK and Europe. However, the premise of Tier 2 is that internal recruitment has been unsuccessful, because there are simply not enough skilled workers in the UK and Europe to fill the posts.
It is intended that the ISC would raise £250M, which would be invested into skills training in the UK, including apprenticeships. At first glance, the plan makes sense – but has the Government factored in the years of academic and professional training it would take an apprentice to reach the required skill level for current Tier 2 roles, particularly if these are limited to positions attracting a salary of £30,000 or higher?
Is the inevitable outcome of the MAC’s recommendations that the Government makes a very small in dent in net migration, but a very large hole in the construction sector?
Emma Brooksbank is the Head of Immigration at Simpson Millar.