Construction & Points-Based Immigration

One of the perennial issues we face in the industry is a lack of skilled or properly trained tradesmen, which, as we all know has led to a huge reliance on (mostly east) European workers taking up the slack.  It now appears that, as feared, Brexit will severely curtail the industry’s ability to fall back on this supply chain – or not in a way going forward that will be familiar to any of us.

The latest guidance for the points-based immigration system has now been published, and all employers who wish to recruit non-UK resident workers in the future will need to register as a sponsor – and this entails fairly significant administration, costs and significant limitations to the flexibility of the arrangements. There are now only a few exceptions for highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer.

The new points-based system will require the job type to be on the governments approved list for skills shortages, and the individuals recruited must be able to speak English and be paid a minimum salary of £25,600 a year – plus there is also a £1,000 or so a year fee for sponsoring the employee – per worker sponsored! The new system has nothing like the current provisions for self-employed workers with which we are currently familiar, and the guidance so far is contradictory – whilst a worker can be sponsored for a contract of, or for employment or services (so a contract for services is in effect a self-employed engagement)  the Governments policy document makes specific note that they were deliberately not creating a dedicated route for self-employed individuals to come and work in the UK (save for the innovator route which, in reality, is not suitable for construction tradesmen).  This is in spite of recognising “that there are several professions where there is a heavy reliance on freelance workers” – without making any provisions for the problems this decision creates! And to make matters even worse, the use of the “for services” contract route to bring self-employed workers into the UK is fraught with contradictions and pitfalls in what is an already complex area of employment and tax law!!

The only vague note for optimism is the announcement within the policy paper of a future “unsponsored route” for self-employed individuals to work in the UK, but as yet this remains un-defined – unless, of course, it’s either of the routes already mentioned!

The only other provision so far announced is for self-employed workers that have already worked in the UK but are not UK residents – a frontier workers permit. This allows tradesmen who have previously worked in the UK on a self-employed basis to return to work, but applications for this permit must be made by 30th June 2021.

Still, we could always hope that the CITB will actually start delivering some meaningful training programs to fill that skills gap void!