Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Construction faces migrant curbs

A house being built
There has been a sharp slowdown since last September

Some construction jobs look set to be taken off the the list of jobs which people from outside the EU can move to the UK to take, MPs have been told.

Professor David Metcalf said the Migration Advisory Committee was taking a "close look" at quantity surveyors and construction managers.

The recession had caused a "profound" change in the labour market, he said.

He said they were also reviewing the high number of non-EU people moving within companies to IT jobs in the UK.

Professor Metcalf told the home affairs committee that he did not want to say more ahead of the advisory council's review of the shortage list, due to be published later in March.

'Very close look'

Some of the review covered jobs the government had asked them to consider, like care workers, he said.

"Some of it is occupations which we have taken it upon ourselves to analyse - these are particularly construction related - because we think the labour market has changed profoundly, very quickly."

The people coming in to do IT jobs are disproportionately coming in through the intra company transfer route
Professor Metcalf

"I'm not going to anticipate what we're going to conclude at the end of March but we are having a very close look - I choose my words carefully - at the construction-related occupations, particularly quantity surveyors and construction managers which were previously on the list, in the light of up-to-date information on unemployment."

It is understood that the number of vacancies for both professions fell dramatically from January 2008 to January 2009 - while the number of unemployed for both rose 500% over the same period.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), which had asked for both professions to be on the shortage list last year, said it agreed with a decision to remove them now, given the slump felt by the industry since last September.

IT jobs

Damian Cleghorn, senior policy officer at Rics, said they supported the measure "in the short term" but hoped the construction industry would pick up enough over the next year for them to have to rejoin the shortage occupation list.

Professor Metcalf said not all job shortages were "of a cyclical nature" - so even in a downturn many occupations, like some medical posts which required a lot of training, would not necessarily come off the shortage list.

MPs heard that fulfilling the criteria of the occupation shortage list was one of three ways non-EU workers could enter the country.

The people coming in to do IT jobs are disproportionately coming in through the intra company transfer route
Professor Metcalf

The others were either fulfilling the resident labour market test - in which jobs are advertised for two weeks inside the EU first - or through a company that operates in different countries transferring its staff abroad to its UK operations.

Conservative MP James Clappison said the committee had received documents suggesting that the two largest categories of jobs for which migrants had been allowed in were computer services and administration, business and management.

He added they were "just the sort of thing people in my constituency are looking for jobs in".

Professor Metcalf said those jobs were not on the shortage list, but migrant workers were able to take them via intra-company transfers.

His committee would be looking at the issue in a review of "tier two workers" - skilled people with a job offer - which would report back by July.

He agreed with Mr Clappison that such transfers had increased "very significantly" in recent years.

"The people coming in to do IT jobs are disproportionately coming in through the intra company transfer route and we will be having a proper look at that in our review," he said.

"If there were real elements of, for example displacement or undercutting, we will report on this."

He was asked if there was any category of job which had come off the shortage list as a result of British workers being trained to fill them.

He could not think of any, but said a lot of effort was going into training up chefs for parts of the catering industry such as Indian restaurants.

Prof Metcalf's comments come after protests at refineries over a plant using Italian workers - and the political row over Gordon Brown's pledge of "British jobs for British workers".

There are no restrictions on workers from the EU taking jobs in the UK. The Migration Advisory Committee deals with managing the occupation list for people from outside of the EU and Iceland, Liechenstein and Norway, wanting to work in the UK.

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