Sadiq Khan

Mayor calls for temporary visas to help construction sector

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has today (13th January) called on the government to create a temporary visa scheme for construction workers.

In September 2021, vacancies in construction rose to its highest level in 20 years.

Prior to Brexit, the capital was dependent on migrant building workers, with more than half the workforce being from the EU and beyond. 

ONS figures show that the number of construction workers in London from the EU fell 54% between April 2017 and April 2020. 

To make matters worse, the UK-born construction workforce is ageing, with an estimated 10-20% reaching retirement age in the next five years. 

Khan claimed that some of the labour shortages in the sector could have been addressed, had the government implemented the recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee’s October 2020 review to add bricklayers, masons, electricians and electrical fitters to the shortage occupation list. 

Latest research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) found that 60% of local builders had been forced to pause jobs due to a shortage of labour, with almost half struggling to recruit into key trades, such as bricklaying and carpentry. 

To help, the mayor is proposing that ministers create a Coronavirus Recovery Visa to help sectors that are struggling with shortages of workers. 

The visa is expected to offer a minimum of 12 months to work in the UK and be appropriately tailored to sectors like construction, where many workers prefer to work on a self-employed basis. 

The proposal follows last year’s temporary visa concession for EU lorry drivers and poultry workers to come to the UK. 

“Tackling London’s housing crisis has always been one of my top priorities since becoming Mayor,” said Khan.

“We’ve worked tirelessly over the last five years to get London building again, and the construction sector forms a key part of London’s Covid recovery plan. 

“However, both our recovery and efforts to deliver the genuinely affordable homes Londoners desperately need could now be put at risk if there isn’t the skilled workforce available to build them.

“The government must look beyond their current blinkered approach to immigration and recognise the impending crisis that is already enveloping one of our most vital industries.” 

Brian Berry, chief executive at the FMB, stated: “While the construction industry has been struggling with skills shortages for some years, the impact of the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU have intensified the issue. 

“Long-term action to improve and encourage greater numbers into the UK’s skills system is necessary, but short-term solutions like emergency visas will be a real shot in the arm for an industry under pressure.” 

Khan is also calling for a regional shortage occupation list that allows London and other cities to attract and retain staff in sectors with a dearth of labour. 

City Hall’s official assessment of housing need in London found that the city now requires around 66,000 new homes a year to provide enough homes for current and future Londoners. 

Geeta Nanda, G15 chair and chief executive at MTVH, said: “G15 housing associations built three-quarters of London’s affordable homes last year, and we are working hard to complete even more new homes for Londoners. 

“However, the shortage of qualified construction workers is causing delays and is putting pressure on the costs of building much needed new homes. 

“A temporary visa scheme would help us to keep building homes for Londoners now.”

Richard Burge, chief executive at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, fully supports the Mayor’s calls to introduce temporary visas for construction workers. 

“This is a long-term challenge, but the immediate shortage of labour poses a threat to a sector that is vital to our recovery and journey to net-zero, as well as to the delivery of affordable housing. 

“Although a short-term solution, temporary visas would go some way to reconciling affordable housing needs with available supply of labour, and the need to bring more young people into opportunities in construction.”

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