'Brexit Mess': Ministers Now Want To Relax Foreign Worker Rules To Plug Labour Shortages

Critics described the government’s approach to immigration as “baffling” and blamed the shortages on Brexit.
Rishi Sunak and a bricklayer
Rishi Sunak and a bricklayer

Rishi Sunak’s government plans to relax the rules on foreign workers to plug Britain’s chronic labour shortages, it has emerged.

While ministers spent this week promoting their clampdown on “illegal” immigration, officials have quietly been clearing the way for more desperately-needed workers to come to the UK.

Critics described the government’s approach to immigration as “baffling” and blamed the lack of workers on “Brexit mess”.

The government plans to plug huge gaps in the job market by starting with looser rules for the building industry, according to the Financial Times.

A number of occupations will be added to the “shortage occupation list” which eases recruitment from abroad.

The list allows companies to obtain visas for staff paid on a lower threshold of £20,480 a year because the salary currently needed to obtain a “skilled worker” visa is £25,600.

The jobs include bricklayers, roofers, plasterers and carpenters which are all facing huge shortages. The construction sector has suffered from a lack of labour after Brexit prompted many European labourers to return to the EU.

The government’s migration advisory committee (MAC) could publish a report recommending the change as soon as next week with home secretary Suella Braverman expected to accept the idea, according to the FT.

MP Stella Creasy, who chairs Labour Movement for Europe, slammed the government’s “inability to build a functioning immigration and asylum system” when vacancies are at “over a million”.

She told HuffPost UK: “British workers are losing jobs and opportunities hand over fist not being able to work in the EU or for companies that want to work with the EU because of the post Brexit visa situation, whilst the UK’s inability to build a functioning immigration and asylum system is holding back our economy at a time when vacancies are at over a million.

“We need urgent reform of the whole visa system to ensure we tackle not just shortages in the UK labour market but also opportunities for all as part of kickstarting growth in our economy.”

Naomi Smith, chief executive of campaign group Best for Britain, said labour shortages are “crippling” the UK’s economy and public services.

“It’s baffling that after their very hard Brexit made things worse, the government is doubling down on threats to break international law, draconian legislation and peddling its nasty nativist narrative,” she added.

“Immigration is good for the UK. All politicians must start being honest about that and create the conditions to make it easier and more appealing for critical workers to come here and fill vacancies.”

One social media user commented: “Seven years later and the two main stories on the front page of the FT are essentially about the Brexit mess.”

Another added: “You couldn’t make this up! The sheer of folly of Brexit.”

One drily tweeted: “Right. So ‘this country is full’ but we need more immigration? It’s been a very confusing week…”

The Home Builders Federation said if Britain wants to increase housing supply it is “essential” we have continued access to skilled labour from abroad.

“The industry is working hard to ensure that there is sufficient depth in the home grown workforce but in the interim, access to foreign labour is required to plug capacity gaps,” they added.

It comes as Braverman unveiled new legislation on Tuesday, aimed at stopping migrants from crossing the Channel to the UK.

She said the new legislation will remove asylum seekers and ban them from re-entry if they arrive through unauthorised means. However, questions remain over its legality.

Braverman told MPs: “The law-abiding, patriotic majority have said enough is enough, this cannot and will not continue. Their government, this government, must act decisively, must act with determination, must act with compassion, must act with proportion.

“So, make no mistake, this Conservative government, this Conservative prime minister, will act now to stop the boats. “

A government spokesperson said: “We work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) 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.

“This includes reviewing the shortage occupation list to ensure it reflects the current labour market. The MAC has published its call for evidence and we encourage all interested parties to respond.”


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