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UK is easing immigration rules to get more builders to move in

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government will loosen immigration rules in a bid to attract more foreign builders to the UK and address a labor shortage in the construction industry.

The Treasury confirmed the move in budget documents on Wednesday, just as the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that net migration flows will settle at 245,000 a year by 2027-28, rather than the 205,000 assumed in its November forecast.

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Construction workers will be added to the UK’s “shortage occupation list” after ministers accepted recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee, which counsels the government on immigration. A wider review due to conclude later this year could see other sectors added to the list.

That could prove controversial among Brexit-backers and Conservative Party supporters, many of whom voted for the UK’s divorce from the EU because of “Leave” campaign pledges in 2016 to “take back control” of Britain’s borders and reduce immigration.


Sunak is walking a tightrope in attempting to keep his Tory grassroots happy ahead of a general election expected next year, while plugging gaps in the UK workforce.

The government agreed to add construction workers to the shortage occupation list “to help ease immediate labor supply pressures.” That includes bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers and roofers.

Wednesday’s decision is a major boost to UK housebuilders amid a chronic shortage of workers. The list allows employers to bring in foreign workers on a lower salary threshold than the usual “skilled worker” level and pay lower visa fees. Despite calls from the hospitality industry to add their workers to the list, the MAC said it did not recommend adding any occupations in that sector at this point. Occupations currently on the shortage list include health and care workers, civil engineers, vets and architects.


In his budget speech, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt outlined a series of measures designed to entice people back into work, including the over-50s. He did not mention the loosening of immigration rules in key sectors, which were instead included in the budget documents.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Hunt doubled down: “What we learned in the Brexit referendum was the country doesn’t want us to fill vacancies with unlimited low-skilled migration,” he said.

Earlier, Hunt stressed that he wants the UK to be a high-skill economy and mobilize the potential of more than seven million British adults who are not in work. “That is a potential pool of seven people for every vacancy,” he said in Parliament.

James Kirkup, director of the cross-party think tank the Social Market Foundation, said in an emailed statement: “The entire budget package rests on OBR growth forecasts that are built on an assumption of annual net migration to the UK of 245,000.

“That’s just the latest official confirmation that immigration can bring economic and fiscal benefits to the UK by giving employers access to more skilled workers.”

Under former leaders David Cameron and Theresa May, the Conservative Party promised to reduce net migration to under 100,000 a year — but consistently failed to hit the target. –With assistance from Joe Mayes and Andrew Atkinson.