The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has added his voice to calls for the Government to create a new ‘Covid Recovery Visa‘ to address the alarming labour shortages affecting a wide range of industries in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic.

In a speech at Bloomberg’s ‘The Future of Global Financial Centres – The New London’ forum today the Mayor will set out how the Covid Recovery Visa would work, including:

  • Calling on the Government to change its immigration system so that it meets economic needs and helps businesses.
  • Requesting devolved powers to fill vacancies in sectors with serious shortages.
  • Suggesting extending the Youth Mobility Scheme to EU nationals.

While the Mayor believes it is right to encourage employers to invest in the UK workforce and to seek improved conditions in sectors with lower pay, he believes it is simply unrealistic for the Government to expect businesses grappling with the worst economic crisis since the Second World War to train the numbers needed in such a short space of time.

As London continues to reopen and with jobs returning, the Mayor hopes that many workers from European countries with status under the EU Settlement Scheme will come back to London and he is using London’s Adult Education Budget to provide skills support to industries like construction and hospitality that are experiencing major staffing shortages. However, it will be difficult to replace experienced workers who choose not to come back and it remains incredibly uncertain how many will return.

Whilst many sectors are struggling to fill vacancies, the labour crisis has uniquely affected different industries and different areas. Since restrictions were removed and the economy began to reopen over the summer, businesses and their representative groups have been reporting hiring difficulties in a number of areas crucial to London’s economy. Hoteliers and restaurants have reported difficulties finding suitably trained candidates for a variety of roles, such as chefs, culinary preparation and managerial staff. Similarly, London housebuilders and construction firms have identified issues hiring specialist trades like bricklayers and carpenters, as well as general construction labourers. In addition, a nationwide shortage of HGV drivers is currently disrupting supply chains for the capital’s wider food and hospitality industry. This is why the Mayor is calling for a more flexible and devolved approach.

The Government’s shortage occupation list includes barely any of the roles that are now urgently needed in hospitality, construction and haulage.  The Mayor believes that creating a regional shortage occupation list for London and other cities would give regions the ability to attract and retain staff in the areas they have greatest need.

The Mayor also knows that much of London’s dynamism comes from its young people, with thousands of people in their teens and twenties previously coming to the city for work every year from across the EU and the world. Brexit removed this freedom of movement so the Mayor is lobbying the Government to build on the existing Youth Mobility Scheme – giving under-30s from Australia, Canada and New Zealand the right to work in the UK for two years – by establishing a similar reciprocal arrangement with the EU. This would have the twin benefit of encouraging young Europeans to come and work in London whilst giving young people from the UK back the freedom to work in Europe.

Speaking at Bloomberg later the Mayor is expected to say:

“Many sectors that are important to our economic recovery, from hospitality to haulage, construction to culture are now under huge strain due the lack of EU workers and the Government’s immigration rules.  We know there are countless struggling businesses across London that are working hard to get back on their feet, but are now simply unable to hire the staff they need.

“Given the urgency and the scale of the challenge, I’m calling on the Government to change its immigration system so that it meets our economic needs and helps our businesses. This must include introducing a “Covid Recovery Visa” to help attract international workers into key roles to support our economic recovery.  London has unique needs when it comes to attracting workers from around the world – and so a more tailored, dynamic approach is urgently required.

“When it comes to immigration, many politicians seem to be too scared to argue for what they know is needed.  The truth is that a flexible migration system that can attract talent from around the world will always be crucial to London’s competitiveness and our ongoing success.”

According to the Office for National Statistics the total number of job vacancies in the UK reached a record high in the latest quarter. While in July 2021 the volume of online job postings in London was around 21 per cent higher than in July 2020, with that figure rising to 43 per cent for construction and building trades and 60 per cent for food preparation and hospitality roles.

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