Skilled Worker Visa

Will the construction industry benefit from being added to the shortage occupation list in 2023?

By Amer Zaman

on June 13, 2023

Read Time: 7 Minutes

As part of the UK Government’s Spring Budget in mid-March 2023, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced measures designed to address immediate construction-industry labour shortages.

Ahead of the Budget, in early February, the Government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to carry out a rapid assessment of the Home Office’s shortage occupations list (SOL) in relation to the Skilled Worker visa route, with a focus on the hospitality and construction industries.

While many representatives of the hospitality sector were disappointed that the MAC did not suggest any hospitality roles be added to the SOL, the body did recommend the addition of five roles related to the construction industry. The Government went on to accept those recommendations in full.

What construction-industry roles are set to be added to the shortage occupation list?

It is expected that the following occupations related to the construction sector will be added to the SOL this summer:

  • Bricklayers and masons, under the occupation code 5312
  • Roofers, roof tilers and slaters under the occupation code 5313
  • Carpenters and joiners under the occupation code 5315
  • Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified, under the occupation code 5319
  • Plasters under the occupation code 5321

Many businesses in the UK that are engaged in the construction sector, some of which may already hold a sponsor licence from the Home Office enabling them to hire workers from abroad, will be hopeful that the addition of these occupations to the SOL will assist them in their recruitment efforts.   The MAC is expected to complete a full review of the SOL later in 2023. Furthermore, it is set to undertake regular reviews in the future, to help ensure the UK’s immigration system has the agility and responsiveness that businesses require when they are looking to access the right talent.

What are the benefits of the shortage occupation list?

As its name suggests, the shortage occupations list, or SOL, is a list of skilled occupations where UK employers face a shortage of suitable candidates if they have to depend on the domestic market alone. This situation often leads such employers to look overseas for appropriate talent for their open positions.

The SOL therefore constitutes recognition by the UK Government that for some organisations, it may be necessary to seek out migrant workers if they are to be able to fill their vacancies.

Not only are all occupations in the SOL eligible for the Skilled Worker visa, but less stringent Home Office requirements also apply to firms that are interested in recruiting for such roles.

Those employed in a shortage occupation in the UK are able to be paid 80% of the usual “going rate” for that job, while still qualifying for a visa. In addition, migrant workers in shortage occupations are able to pay a lower visa application fee.

What do the changes mean for employers in the construction industry that are looking to recruit?

From an employer’s perspective, then, a role that they are seeking to recruit for being added to the shortage occupations list would probably seem to be good news. Many firms in the construction industry in the UK will hope the changes make it easier for them to hire a broader range of workers who might otherwise be difficult to come by in the domestic labour market.

However, if this describes the situation of your own organisation, it is important to appreciate that there is more to the process than simply advertising a shortage vacancy, picking out an exciting candidate (who may happen to be from abroad), and offering them the job.

That’s because, in order to recruit many migrant workers, it is necessary for an employer in the UK to have a sponsor licence from the Home Office. As an organisation, holding a sponsor licence means you have effectively been given permission by the UK Government to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK.

There are certain groups of people from outside the UK that employers in the UK are permitted to recruit, even if the given employer does not hold a sponsor licence. Examples of such individuals include Irish citizens, those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and those with “indefinite leave to remain” status in the UK.

So, if the candidate that you are thinking of hiring for your construction-sector organisation is in one of the above “exempt” groups, you will be able to hire them already, without having to worry about whether you have a sponsor licence or whether their jobs are mentioned on the SOL.

Otherwise, you will need to apply and get approved for a sponsor licence in order to recruit foreign migrant workers for your business’s vacancies. The good news is that this is not necessarily as intimidating or as difficult a process as you might imagine, provided that your organisation satisfies the Home Office’s eligibility requirements and puts in place the right compliance measures.

If you are eager to investigate how your own organisation could apply for and be granted a sponsor licence, and to receive help in doing so, please feel free to contact our experts in UK immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal. You can call our award-winning central London-based team today on 0208 215 0053, or request a free consultation using our online contact form.

When you do so, we will be able to discuss with you in greater detail how our comprehensive project-managed service for sponsor licence applications could help your organisation fulfil its hiring and growth goals during 2023 – and beyond.

Is there a shortage of construction workers in the UK?

The short answer to this question is: yes. In January 2023, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) – which is the industry training board for the UK construction sector – published its latest Construction Skills Network (CSN) report, which provided insights into the country’s construction economy and its future labour requirements.

Data provided in the report helps to make clear how the UK construction sector is expected to change over the period from 2023 to 2027. This, in turn, is important for Governments and organisations alike, as they look to put in place responsible measures for the future.

One of the headline findings of the report is that 225,000 additional workers will be required between now and 2027, in order for the UK to meet future anticipated construction demand. This amounts to around 45,000 workers a year, which could be a challenging gap to fill for employers attempting to depend on the UK labour market alone.

The scale of that challenge is illustrated by the fact that an annual average output growth of 1.5% in the CITB’s 2023-27 Outlook would translate into an average annual workforce growth rate of just 0.1%, effectively amounting to no significant change to the total workforce. Furthermore, as the CITB also noted, construction vacancies as of the end of 2022 were still almost twice as high as they had been prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This indicates that during 2023, employers in the UK construction sector that are seeking out the right workers will continue to face a highly competitively labour market.

So, what can construction-industry employers do in order to recruit the workers they need?

The bad news for employers across the UK construction sector that might presently be struggling to secure the workers they require, is that there is reason to believe such struggles are attributable to a mix of different factors.

This, in turn, suggests that simply lowering the barriers to the recruitment of overseas talent might only do so much to relieve the current elevated pressures on construction-industry employers.

Factors like a greater tendency towards flexible working, ever-changing Government policies on migration, the ageing UK workforce, and heightening inactivity levels, are continuing to give the wider construction industry a lot to think about when it comes to recruitment.

So, although there are hopes among many in the construction industry that the aforementioned addition of the shortage roles to the SOL will help firms to recruit much-needed talent more easily, there are other steps your organisation is likely to need to take.

You may, for example, look at how your business can attract skilled workers that are already working in the UK construction sector, and that therefore already have the necessary permissions to work in this field in the UK. In addition, you might consider how you can best attract workers who have left the construction sector back into this industry, as well as how you can optimise your arrangements for retaining existing workers.

Whatever steps your organisation does take to help it recruit and keep hold of vital staff, you are unlikely to regret applying for – and getting approved for – a Home Office sponsor licence.

Even if you don’t intend to begin hiring from overseas immediately, being a sponsor licence holder could enable your business to act quickly to recruit such workers as and when they may be needed. Such agility and responsiveness, in turn, could significantly aid your drive to grow your construction-industry business in the UK. To find out more, then, about how our team at Cranbrook Legal can project-manage your firm’s application for a sponsor licence from start to finish, and even help you fulfil your sponsor licence responsibilities, please don’t wait any longer to request your free consultation. You can also call us, on 0208 215 0053.

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