Visa blocking risks economic growth of UK by Design2e

Wayne Holt, Executive Director at leading Specialist Structural and Civil Engineering design consultancy Design2e, talks immigration after a Freedom of Information request revealed hundreds of engineers have been blocked from entering the UK

The skills shortage within engineering and the construction industry is a real problem which threatens to have serious implications.

That’s why I was very concerned to read this week that hundreds of civil engineers have been denied visas to work in the UK over the last few months.

More than 6,000 skilled workers were denied work visas from December 2017 to March 2018 as the cap on the number of people entering the UK from non-EU countries under a Tier 2 (General) Certificate of Sponsorship had been reached.

In March alone, more than half of applicants were rejected.

And of those 6,000 disappointed people, almost 400 had been offered engineering jobs, including in civil engineering.

The cap was reached because there was a surge in applications during those months. It’s not 100 per cent clear why, but I guess it is because fewer Europeans are applying for roles in this country as Brexit looms.

The obvious implication of this is that hundreds of engineering jobs across the UK are not being filled – and that will inevitably damage productivity.

At a time when this country desperately needs new homes and major infrastructure improvements, this is simply ridiculous. Construction plays an pivotal role in the economy of the country – and this Home Office cap will slow progress.

The Government argues that we as employers should be looking for our staff in the UK before looking overseas.

It is not that simple. We work hard with British universities to try and recruit the brightest talent, but not enough people are studying engineering. An annual shortfall of 37,000 to 59,000 university and apprenticeship graduates is anticipated in engineering as people retire and demand increases.

Yes, more needs to be done to increase the profile and social standing of civil engineers so young people think of it as a possible career. Absolutely, the industry needs to evolve so that skills are broadened and projects can be delivered in a less intensive way.

But those are long-term goals and will not address the shortages in the here and now. In the roles where there are clear shortages, such as science, engineering and healthcare, this immigration cap must be lifted so that businesses can recruit the people they desperately need to be productive.

The current policy is not working for anyone – not for the Government, not for employers and not for the public, either.

Here at Design2e, we have some fantastic immigrants amongst our workforce, both from the EU and from elsewhere.

In fact, just a few weeks ago we brought in two young men from China. The knowledge and experience they have is vital to our continued growth.

If this country truly wants to be a global leader in construction and engineering, we need to welcome the best people here to Britain to work alongside our workforce.

This is an issue which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The alternative is almost unthinkable.