More roles in the construction sector have been added to the shortage occupation list but hospitality has again lost out when it comes to recruiting overseas workers.
After a review by the Migration Advisory Committee, and confirmed in yesterday’s Budget announcement, bricklayers, carpenters, roofers, plasterers and joiners may be able to gain work visas more easily in the UK after the government updated its shortage occupation list.
Immigration specialists have criticised the update for reflecting a “schizophrenic attitude” to UK immigration, and creating an “administrative headache” for small and medium-sized businesses.
The MAC, which advises ministers, looked at 26 occupations in construction and hospitality, and recommended five for inclusion on the shortage occupations list.
Despite stating that Brexit and the pandemic had caused labour shortages in both sectors, the committee did not recommend any hospitality occupations be included.
The review recognised that vacancies from November 2022 to January 2023, compared with January to March 2020, were 72% higher in hospitality and 65% higher in construction.
This compares to an increase of 42% in the overall economy.
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Among its reasonings behind the changes, the committee said the “strategic importance of construction for the UK economy” was paramount given that demand for construction workers was likely to grow markedly in this decade.
The review was based on whether an occupation made up more than 0.5% of the sector workforce and earned below the current general threshold for migrants which stands at £26,200.
Because overall employment in hospitality had recovered since a large fall during the pandemic the committee said it did not recommend any of the sector’s occupations for the shortlist – including chefs, restaurant or bar managers.
Employers will now find it far easier to sponsor workers in the five roles added to the list. But, pointed out visa expert at AY&J Solicitors Yash Dubal, such firms will not have had any prior experience of the points-based skilled worker visa route and could find the application and sponsorship process required before overseas workers can be employed too complicated and onerous.
“It’s not just a question of advertising a role and offering a job. There are many hoops a company must jump through in order to be in a position to sponsor someone on a skilled worker visa,” said Dubal. “There are also significant fees. Bigger businesses with established administrative offices will be familiar with the red tape but SMEs and smaller limited building firms without experience will no doubt find the whole system frustrating. It takes up to eight weeks just to get approved to sponsor a worker, longer if there are issues with the required paperwork and the monitoring is ongoing.”
“Failure to meet the requirements or infringements of the rules when workers are hired can have serious consequences, no matter if mistakes are unwitting or not. For all these reasons I would doubt we’ll see an influx of foreign builders once the roles are added to the list.”
The changes come at a time when home secretary Suella Braverman has repeatedly emphasised her determination to bring down immigration numbers. Late last year the UK recorded its highest ever immigration numbers.
Immigration law specialist Vanessa Ganguin told Personnel Today that the “expedited recommendations and the longer term stop-start Migration Advisory Committee review reflect the government’s schizophrenic attitude to UK immigration – as both crucial for reversing the UK’s decline in GDP and a dog-whistle for the forthcoming election.”
Ganguin echoed Dubal’s view that sponsored work immigration in the construction sector was not going to be the major long-term solution for skills shortages. She added that, unlike the higher skill levels of the occupations in the building industry that were considered, many occupations in hospitality were at skill level RQF 1-2. This led the MAC to repeat, as requested by the government, that “an exceptional argument that immigration should be used to alleviate shortage.”
Many hospitality employers had particularly hoped that chefs – removed from the list in 2020 – may have been put back on it, said Ganguin.
While the Budget Day report found evidence of a skills shortage here, and reviewed evidence submitted by the sector on new training initiatives, it called for more evidence to put chefs back on the list, warning it was sceptical about “sustainable domestic recruitment and retention for this skilled occupation when wages remain so low.”
A wider review of the shortage occupation list will be concluded in the autumn, with employers that want more occupations added to it being invited “to provide robust, evidence-based submissions”.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has denied that the decision to accept the migration committee’s recommendations was a “betrayal of Brexit”, telling the BBC that “people who voted for Brexit didn’t vote for no immigration”.
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