Three-year ‘brickie visa’ would plug UK skills gaps, says think tank

11 May 2017 By Annie Makoff

But experts warn employers wouldn’t have enough time to train UK workers to solve lack of specialist skills

Low-skilled EU workers should be granted a temporary ‘brickie visa’ for three years post-Brexit to plug the UK’s skills gap, a think tank has proposed.

The move would help UK businesses transition from relying on EU workers to fill roles, while acknowledging that workers with many specialist skills – such as bricklaying, plumbing and construction work – remain in short supply in the country.

In its report released today, EU Immigration, Post-Brexit – A Comprehensive Policy, Migration Watch said the so-called ‘brickie visa’ would allow the entry of EU nationals to fill jobs that would not otherwise qualify for a Tier 2-style work permit, and could not be filled by a UK citizen or a EU migrant on a youth mobility visa.

Under the proposed temporary scheme, the visa would be issued for one year but could be extended for an additional year, up to a maximum of three years, to encourage businesses to train local staff for unfilled roles. The Migration Advisory Committee would decide which sectors and occupations would be eligible under the scheme, the think tank suggested.

Employers would need to provide evidence of “genuine attempts” to recruit UK nationals, and would be responsible for paying an annual levy, which would rise incrementally, to make it more financially viable for employers to recruit and train local workers.

EU workers on this visa would not be entitled to in-work benefits, tax credits or housing benefits, nor would they be allowed to settle, the report said.

Alp Mehmet, vice-chairman at Migration Watch UK, said there was a “genuine need” for the visa, which provided “strong financial incentives” for employers to train British workers.

“Training outside the workplace has fallen off a cliff since 2000. Employers must now step up to the mark,” he added.

While Paul Payne, managing director of construction and rail recruiter One Way, said the ‘brickie visa’ was a “good idea in theory”, he warned that it would just provide a short-term solution to a “deeply rooted, long-term issue” caused by a “dearth of available talent” within the construction and engineering sector.  

Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders, told People Management that smaller building firms – which make up the majority of companies in the building industry – would struggle with a “costly and bureaucratic” process of sponsoring migrant labour.

She said: “Given the dependence that the sector has on non-UK labour, construction SMEs would be concerned if this source of talent was effectively closed off. While there is undoubtedly a need 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.”

Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD, said the three-year period would not give employers enough time to train local staff to offset the need to fill vacancies in the future. He insisted that many employers could not find suitable local applicants despite attempts to make jobs more attractive, and it was therefore “inevitable” that employers would require some form of safety net for EU migrants in the long-term.

Migrant Watch’s recommendations coincided with a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which has warned that an increase in minimum wage could put low-paid jobs at risk.

Jonathan Cribb, economist at IFS and author of the report, said: “At some point, higher minimum wages will reduce the employment of lower-skilled workers. Since we do not know where that point is, sudden large increases are risky.”

The report was in response to plans touted by both Labour and the Conservatives to increase the minimum wage. Labour has pledged to raise the minimum wage for the over 18s to more than £10 an hour by 2020, while  the Conservatives’ existing plan is to increase the minimum wage to £9 an hour by 2020.  

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