Recruiting overseas talent
in the construction sector

Following recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the government has updated its Shortage Occupation List (SOL) to include a variety of roles in the construction sector to help tackle ongoing labour shortages.

The construction sector is one of many that have called on the government to relax its post-Brexit immigration rules to make it easier for businesses to access the talent they need from overseas.

The SOL is a list of occupations that have been identified as being in shortage and where immigration is a sensible solution to addressing that shortage. Jobs on the SOL are subject to lower salary requirements and lower visa application fees, making it easier and cheaper for employers to fill gaps in their business with foreign workers.

The construction occupations that have been added to the list are:

  • 5312 Bricklayers and masons
  • 5313 Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
  • 5315 Carpenters and joiners
  • 5319 Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified
  • 5321 Plasterers.

In response to a further recommendation from the MAC, dryliners have been reclassified to the same occupation code as plasterers, making the job eligible for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route and included on the SOL.

This latest development will be welcome news for many employers and should go some way to alleviating long-standing skills shortages in the construction sector. However, firms should be aware that the recruitment benefits afforded by these changes may be offset by significantly higher immigration fees the Home Office intends to introduce this year.

Although an implementation date for the fee rises has not yet been announced, there are some steps employers can take now to ensure they are prepared.

Prepare your business to sponsor construction workers from overseas

If your business is not already a licensed sponsor, you must apply for a Home Office sponsor licence before you can begin sponsoring workers under the Skilled Worker route.

If you think your business will need to recruit construction workers from overseas in the near future, Smith Stone Walters recommends applying now before the planned fee increases come into effect. Currently, the cost to apply for a licence is £1,476 for medium or large sponsors, or £536 for small or charitable sponsors.

The standard processing time for a sponsor licence application is 8 weeks. However, for an additional fee you may be able to fast-track the process and get a decision within 10 working days by utilising the pre-licence priority service.

Once your licence is in place, you will be able to begin assigning Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to the individual workers you wish to hire.

Plan ahead for the higher fees

The announcement on the fee hikes has come as a blow to many employers that had been hopeful the government was finally offering a workable solution to the sector’s staff shortages.

The changes are set to increase work visa application fees by 15%, and CoS fees by 20%. The Immigration Health Surcharge for workers staying for at least six months will also increase from £624 to £1035 per year. As yet, there has been no indication that the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) will be increased.

Employers should carefully consider the impact of the fee rises against the business benefits of easier access to talent from outside the UK. The higher fees mean employers may need to reconsider their policies on who will be responsible for some of these costs: the business or the visa applicant.

You may also wish to consider the use of ‘clawback’ agreements in employment contracts to protect your business’s investment in your sponsored workers and enable you to recoup some costs if employment terminates early. However, there are strict rules around such agreements, so we recommend seeking advice from a qualified immigration advisor to discuss your options.

Employers planning an overseas recruitment drive are strongly advised to get the ball rolling now and submit any pending visa applications at the earliest convenience to take advantage of the current lower fees.

Support with sponsoring overseas workers

If you require support with your sponsor licence application or any other aspect of immigration compliance, Smith Stone Walters can help. To discuss your requirements with a member of our team, please contact us today.

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