By Diane Cooke
Fruit pickers won't be the only EU migrant workers noticeable by their absence if plans to introduce a British work permit system to cut net migration to mid-1990s levels is approved.
The rules will seek to weed out low-skilled migrant workers, giving preference to the highly-skilled from Europe.
But where does that leave the construction industry? Apparently, one in five people working on house-building sites in England is a foreign national, a survey by the Home Builders Federation reveals.
In London, more than half of construction workers in house-building are from outside the UK. Romanians account for more than half of the foreign nationals working on English building sites, the census revealed.
The Home Builders Federation (HBF) carried out the survey of 37,167 workers on 1,090 of its members’ building sites. It found:
• 19.7% of workers on house building sites across the country are not UK nationals
• 56.3% of workers on London sites are from overseas.
• 15% of bricklayers are non-UK workers (48.5% in London).
The HBF said that its survey shows the reliance of house-builders in England on foreign labour. It said that continued access to skilled EU workers post Brexit was essential to deliver the government’s housing targets.
Confusingly, there is no single definition of what constitutes a low-skilled job or a low-skilled worker.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for example, defines low-skilled on the basis of the person (and their education level) rather than on the basis of the job.
But that doesn't necessarily capture what is happening in the UK labour market, where many people with high levels of education are performing relatively unskilled jobs such as driving taxis or making coffee.
In April, Steven Woolfe MEP, writing for “Leave Means Leave”, argued that it would be easy enough to get net migration down to 50,000, simply by a “moratorium on unskilled visas”.
He said: “Working visas will only be granted if the satisfactory amount of points is reached…The points system will take into account education, qualifications and suitability for a job…However, a work visa will only be granted once these other requirements are met…The applicant has a job offer, sponsored by a company and a minimum annual salary of £35,000.”
Professor of Economics and Public Policy, John Portes writes: "Only about one quarter of UK employees earn more than £35,000. Examples of jobs that for which half or more of all employees earn less than £35,000 include physiotherapists, speech therapists, nurses, primary school teachers, most technicians, skilled construction workers, chemists, environmental scientists, social workers, paralegals, electricians, chefs, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers (OK, there’s no SOC4 code for candlestick maker. But you get the idea). These are the people Steven Woolfe is calling “unskilled” and wants to keep out."