The construction industry has perennially solved its skilled-labour shortages by looking abroad. But, since Brexit, employing people from overseas has become complicated. Those EU nationals who do not have settled or pre-settled status are now bound by the government’s points-based system along with other overseas nationals. Construction firms wanting to employ overseas workers must jump through bureaucratic hoops – each with potential hazards for the unwary.
SL&V was established to provide accessible and high-quality regulated immigration advice. The team, made up of regulated advisers and former Home Office executives, helps businesses through the sponsorship process, guiding them on compliance issues and ethical practices.
“EU nationals will now need the appropriate visa to work in the UK,” director Kevin Barker explains. “Those wishing to employ overseas workers must have a licence to do so. Having this licence opens the doors to the global talent pool.”
Some construction roles have recently been added to the Home Office’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL), enabling a quicker and more affordable process for licensed construction firms. Barker says that similar changes have already been made in the care sector and providers have embraced the opportunity to engage skilled overseas workers. He expects the same for construction. “It’s going to be what the Home Office terms a skilled trade,” Barker says. “Labourers won’t qualify, but skilled trades such as electricians, plumbers, plasterers, engineers, roofers and so on will be eligible.”
SL&V’s clients either recruit directly from abroad or use recruitment partners. Only businesses that have a sponsor licence can employ overseas workers, and SL&V can advise firms on how to get this. Once here, workers may move employers but can stay in the UK for a maximum of five years. A sponsored worker on the SOL must normally be paid at least £20,960 a year (although some roles can require a higher salary).
A pitfall for the industry is illegal working, which Barker says is compounded by the common use of subcontracting and an often lax attitude towards carrying out the required checks on whether someone has the right to work in the UK. Although firms can take on self-employed people without these checks, “some of the primary construction companies now need to have a modern-slavery statement in place”, he says.
“They’re supposed to be ensuring that there’s an ethical labour supply. And many of them are writing this into their contracts with the subcontractors,” Barker adds. “Often we find larger companies are not checking that right-to-work checks are being completed by the subcontractor, therefore it’s allowing those illegal workers to infiltrate through the subcontractor model from the lower levels.”
This attitude may lead to prosecutions and is best avoided, with illegal-working fines set to rise to £60,000 per worker in 2024.
Barker says the addition of skilled construction roles to the SOL “creates an opportunity for smaller subcontractors to employ directly and sponsor people from overseas so they can provide a skilled and legal workforce to larger firms”.
SL&V will ensure a firm is eligible for a sponsor licence and can support an application.
Another issue is whether foreign workers have a CSCS card – essential for many sites. “That’s been quite a difficult hurdle for people outside the UK because your qualifications need to be assessed,” Barker says. “But it’s something we’ve found a solution to, so it’s not a barrier to sponsorship.”
Employing foreign staff may seem daunting, but SL&V can help firms overcome the challenges and get the skilled workers they need.
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