Immigration rules to be relaxed to ease skills shortages for builders

Man plastering interior wall
Plasterers are in short supply since Brexit (Image credit: Getty Images)

Foreign builders could be able to easily access work visas in the UK after the government updated its shortage occupation list.

The country needs 53,000 additional workers a year to meet construction demand, according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), with current levels of available tradesmen making it difficult trying to find a builder.

Meanwhile, around a third of Federation of Master Builders (FMB) members are struggling to recruit carpenters and joiners, bricklayers, and general labourers.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “It’s good to see the Government listening to the FMB and other industry stakeholders about the current skills shortages. Adding trades such as bricklayers and carpenters to the Shortage of Occupation List delivers on calls from the construction industry."

He added: "Recent data from the FMB State of Trade survey reveals that 60% of jobs are stalled due to labour shortages. The construction sector needs at least 225,000 additional workers by 2027 to meet demand, and many more if we are to tackle energy efficiency improvements to homes.”

Why has the government relaxed immigration rules?

Many foreign construction workers left the UK after Brexit, while demand for their services has risen post-pandemic. From November 2022 to January 2023, compared with the period before the pandemic from January to March 2020, vacancies are 65% higher in construction.

The latest State of Trade Survey from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) reveals that 48% of FMB members are in favour of plans to attract more skilled labour from abroad to help address the chronic skills gap in construction. Just 21% opposed changing immigration rules.

As a result, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was tasked with reviewing the shortage occupation list in August 2022. People on the list are able to apply for a skilled worker visa to come and work in the UK.

It allows employers to bring in workers from abroad without them having to meet the higher salary thresholds and visa fees.

How is the government relaxing the rules?

The MAC recommends that bricklayers, masons, roofers, roof tilers and slaters, carpenters and joiners, and plasterers are added to the shortage occupation list.

In a report, it stated: “Stakeholder evidence suggests that there are sector-wide initiatives to improve recruitment and retention as well as already well-established training pathways.

“It also suggests that the industry is keen to increase direct employment, moving away from its traditionally high self-employment rate.

“Both actions show a desire in the industry to increase domestic recruitment and improve workers’ career development opportunities. Despite this, in some areas of the sector there are still shortages which do not show signs of abating.”

It said it also considered the "strategic importance of construction for the UK economy" and how its workforce was likely to change in the next decade, with "demand likely to increase markedly".

When will the new rules take effect?

The recommendations in MAC report are interim, pending the completion of a full review.

It states it will consider its recommendations once more as part of the full review and finalise them as part of its list of shortage occupation list -related recommendations.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The growing skills gap in the construction sector is a ticking time bomb that the Government can’t afford to ignore.”

Sam Webb

Sam is based in Coventry and has been a news reporter for nearly 20 years. His work has featured in the Mirror, The Sun, MailOnline, the Independent, and news outlets throughout the world.  As a copywriter, he has written for clients as diverse as Saint-Gobain, Michelin, Halfords Autocentre, Great British Heating, and Irwin Industrial Tools. During the pandemic, he converted a van into a mini-camper and is currently planning to convert his shed into an office and Star Wars shrine.