With Brexit looming and Britain set to be gripped by a skills shortage upon exiting the European Union, Migration Watch has suggested a ‘brickie visa’ to plug skills gaps. According to a report compiled by the so-called independent, non-political immigration and asylum research organisation, Britain will be short of bricklayers and plumbers in 2019. It is difficult, expensive and bureaucratic obtaining a Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence and Tier 2 visa both required as part of the tier 2 visa process.
As a contingency, once Britain leaves the bloc, the anti-immigration Migration Watch has proposed a temporary annual visa – that can be extended to a maximum of three years – as a stop gap solution. Under the visa scheme, employers would pay a fee and would have to provide proof that they tried to hire in the UK in the first instance.
According to Migration Watch’s report, the brickie visa would be issued to so-called low-skilled EU nationals if they are ineligible for a Tier 2-type work permit or the job vacancy could not be filled by a UK citizen or an EU migrant on a Tier 5 youth mobility visa.
The report stated that EU workers granted the visa would not receive in-work benefits, tax credits or housing benefits. They would be prohibited from settling in the UK also. Meanwhile, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) – an independent organisation that advises the government on immigration matters - would determine which sectors and occupations qualify for the scheme, Migration Watch hinted.
Genuine need would be met
The vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, Alp Mehmet said: “The ‘brickie visa’ would meet a genuine need for a few years, but with strong financial incentives for employers to train British workers. Training outside the workplace has dipped dramatically since 2000. Employers must now step up to the mark.”
According to The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, UK companies are finding it more difficult than ever to find the right staff, despite unemployment figures hitting a 12-year low. This has been attributed to the reluctance of EU citizens to take jobs in Britain.
UK–based, international sandwich shop chain, Pret a Manger has said that it would struggle to recruit enough staff if they had to rely wholly on British citizens. However, the political climate in Britain following the vote to leave the EU in June 2016, is one of overwhelming public desire to cap immigration.
Reducing net immigration numbers to the tens of thousands forms part of the recently released Conservative Party manifesto. Theresa May has pledged to meet this target and has reiterated this while out on the campaign trail ahead of the snap election on 8 June.
Meanwhile, Home Office Secretary Amber Rudd has said that the government will ‘insist’ businesses like Pret a Manger ‘try harder to train and recruit more UK nationals.
Mixed response to brickie visa proposals
Paul Payne, the managing director of construction and rail recruiter, One Way thought that the brickie visa was a ‘good idea in theory’, but in practice it would just paper over the cracks of what is a deeply rooted, long-term problem. He attributes the issues to a severe lack of available talent across the construction and engineering sector.
The director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders, Sarah McMonagle, claims that smaller building firms – which represent the majority of companies in the building industry – couldn’t cope with what she describes as a ‘costly and bureaucratic’ process for sponsoring migrant labour.
McMonagle said: “Given the reliance that the building sector has on foreign labour, construction SMEs would be concerned if this source of talent was effectively closed off.”
She added: “While there is an obvious requirement to increase the number of people signing up for construction apprenticeships, the transition to a workforce where there are sufficient numbers of trained UK workers to meet demand won’t happen overnight, and government policy must reflect this.”
Labour market adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Gerwyn Davies argued that the three-year validity of the brickie visa would not give employers ample time to train local staff to fill vacancies in the future.
Davies is adamant that many employers ‘could not find suitable local applicants’, regardless of how attractive they made the job package. He said: “It’s inevitable that employers will require some form of safety net for EU migrants in the long-term.”
Higher minimum wage threatens jobs of lower skilled workers
Migration Watch’s proposals come following the release of an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report, which warned that increasing the UK minimum wage threatens the jobs of low-paid workers.
Author of the report and economist at the IFS, Jonathan Cribb, claims that higher minimum wages, at some point, will result in lower employment rates of low-skilled workers. He argues that because it cannot be determined when this will happen, knee-jerk increases are risky.
The FSB report is a response to proposals pitched by both the Labour Party and the Conservative government to raise the minimum wage. Labour has promised more than £10 an hour for over 18s by 2020. Meanwhile, the Tory Party declared £9 per hour by 2020.
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