Many column inches and interviews over the last few years have been dedicated to the impact that leaving the EU is going to have on British business’s ability to attract and retain talent. There is no question that many businesses in the construction industry are going to face significant challenges over the next few years, however it’s important to highlight that it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to immigration. Perhaps now more than ever it’s important to not only prepare for the challenges, but to also look to the positives to keep us focused on coming out of the Coronavirus pandemic as strong as possible.

Leaving the EU has given the government the opportunity to look again at how the whole immigration system works and, broadly speaking, they have done a good job in reforming what was starting to become an outdated system. Probably the biggest changes have come in the new Skilled Worker category, which replaces the old Tier 2 (General) category, where the skill and salary thresholds have been lowered, tradable points have been introduced and the Resident Labour Market Test and annual cap have been removed. These changes mean that there are opportunities for businesses of all sizes, so I’m going to look at three key opportunities.

Firstly, a big opportunity for the construction industry is that significantly more construction specific roles now meet the skills threshold. Businesses have always been able to sponsor employment under the old Tier 2 (General) category for managers and directors in the construction industry, however now it is possible to sponsor a significantly wider range of trades including builders, plasterers, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers and steel workers. This not only means that businesses will still be able to hire EU citizens in these types of roles (albeit with added cost and admin), but it also opens up new labour markets around the world, giving access to previously untapped sources of skilled labour.

Similarly, there is now more scope to sponsor individuals that work in roles not previously permitted under the Tier 2 (General) category but have a high “value-add” element such as extensive industry experience or a particular skill set that didn’t previously meet the skills threshold. For example, a highly experienced tradesman with 20 years industry experience will bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that will not only result in better quality or more efficient work, but will also ‘up skill’ colleagues by sharing their knowledge.

Finally, there are also more opportunities to take on engineering graduates from UK universities and abroad. By lowering the salary threshold, businesses are no longer forced into offering higher initial salaries for non-British nationals who require sponsorship to work in the UK than they would normally offer for British graduates, so the range of graduates that you can look to hire has increased. Tradable points also offer flexibility as this allows for even more scope to hire bright young individuals who are at the start of their career and might not be able to command as high a salary as more experienced colleagues.

To say that the UK’s new immigration system should be hailed as a complete triumph is somewhat wide of the mark, however at a time when businesses are understandably concerned about their ability to attract the right talent, it is important to draw attention to some of the more positive changes that the government have made.

Chris Harber is the Head of Immigration at Boyes Turner, a law firm based in Reading. Chris is working with numerous businesses on developing their staffing and recruitment strategies post Brexit, if you would like to get in touch with Chris please email him at charber@boyesturner.com or visit www.boyesturner.com.