Civils firms have slammed a report that called for a charge on the hiring of certain foreign workers as “self-defeating”.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) chief executive Alasdair Reisner said such a tax could prevent firms getting the best people for critical projects.
He was speaking after the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) urged the government to introduce a £1,000-per-year charge on all employees coming through Tier 2 of the points based system, which is the primary route for economic migration to the UK from outside the European Economic Area.
The committee said this would “incentivise employers to reduce their reliance on employing migrant workers, and to invest in training and upskilling UK workers”. The charge – which would not apply to migrants coming through intra-company and graduate trainee routes – was one of a number of measures set out in a report to ministers published this week.
Reisner said: “Our members are keen to deliver, upgrade and maintain the UK’s vital infrastructure networks using home-grown talent where possible. However, the introduction of this charge would penalise employers who hire skilled non-EU migrants.
“In the infrastructure sector, this could act as a drag on the ability of companies to hire the best people for the job.
“The success of the UK economy is reliant on the vital roads, rail, energy and communications networks Ceca members deliver on a day-to-day basis. While our members share the government’s ambition of creating a more highly skilled UK workforce, is it self-defeating to hinder their ability to import skilled workers from abroad when absolutely necessary.”
Prime minister David Cameron said in May 2015 that he would ask the MAC to advise about “significantly reducing the level of economic migration from outside the EU”.
“We should be getting to a place where we only bring in workers from outside Europe where we have genuine skills shortages or require highly-specialist experts,” said Cameron at the time.
MAC chair Sir David Metcalf said there were three reasons for an immigration skills charge (ISC).
“First, the ISC – like the proposed hike in minimum pay thresholds – raises the cost of immigrant labour and therefore contributes to the stated intention to reduce numbers,” he said.
“Second, migrants impose costs on, for example, transport, health and education. An ISC would help offset such costs.
“Third, and most important, many firms employing migrants – particularly those employing Indian information technology workers on third party contracts – make rather modest efforts to upskill UK workers. The revenue from the ISC can be used to help rectify this lack of investment in UK human capital.”