Home Office suspends review into migration and skill shortages

A shake-up of migration rules that could have helped to plug skill shortages in the construction sector has been stalled by the Home Office.

The review of the shortage occupation list, which specifies the roles that employers have the greatest difficulty recruiting for locally, was commissioned by the government last summer.

Jobs on the list benefit from a relaxation of the post-Brexit migration rules to make it easier for vacancies to be filled with migrant labour.

The construction industry has called for roles such as bricklayers and masons, which have seen soaring vacancy rates, to be added to the list so employers can recruit from overseas.

But the Migration Advisory Committee, the body tasked with the review, said the government had told it to pause its work until further notice.

“This review is currently on hold at the request of the Home Office pending clarification from the government on migration policy,” the committee said in its annual review, which was published last month.

“This may alter the specific details of the commission and we do not think it would be in the interest of stakeholders to begin a call for evidence that may not reflect the final parameters of the commission.

“We will continue to press the government to reach a decision on this commission as soon as possible.”

In November, the Office for National Statistics published figures showing that net migration to the UK in the year to June 2022 was the highest on record, driven by immigration from outside the EU and humanitarian schemes set up for people fleeing Ukraine and Hong Kong.

But the delay to the review was greeted with disappointment from construction industry leaders, who have long called for flexibility in the migration rules to help meet skills shortages in key trades.

A report from the Construction Industry Training Board last month showed that 224,900 extra workers would be needed between now and 2027 to meet construction demand.

Association of Brickwork Contractors chief executive Eve Livett said she was concerned about the impact of the decision on recruitment and called on the government to get the review back on track.

Although the brick sector had worked successfully with partners in further education to create opportunities for new recruits to the sector, there was an urgent need for bricklayers, other trades and general labourers to be included on the list, she said.

“We actively lobbied for bricklayers to be on that list,” said Livett. “There is a huge shortage of bricklayers who left after Brexit and haven’t come back. With the review now being delayed, it is difficult to see how all labour requirements can be met.

“While industry efforts to enhance internal recruitment are essential, in order to meet demand, government support is urgently needed to leverage international recruitment.”

In 2020, then home secretary Priti Patel rejected a previous recommendation of the committee that bricklayers and masons should be added to the list.

The committee had been asked to consider what medium-skill occupations should be included in the list ahead of the introduction of a points-based immigration system the following year.

But Patel said she would not follow the review’s guidance, saying she would wait to assess the combined impact of the pandemic and new immigration rules on the labour market.

Last year, London mayor Sadiq Khan called on the government to create a temporary visa scheme for overseas construction workers to alleviate a shortfall in skilled labour in the capital post-Brexit.

The government said it continued to collaborate with the committee to ensure the system reflected the demands of the labour market.

“We work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure our points-based system delivers for the UK and works in the best interests of the economy, by prioritising the skills and talent we need and encouraging long-term investment in the domestic workforce,” a spokesperson said.

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