The news that Britain is looking to curb the flow of non-EU surveyors and construction managers entering these shores will no doubt be welcomed unreservedly by many.

Not me. I read that piece of news with some deep regrets.


Because it represents just one more door closing on the opportunity for people to work freely wherever they can find work in the world. One more bit of freedom lost.

But for those who hold this freedom in less high regard than I do, I can fully understand the desire to up the drawbridge to an even wider range of overseas workers in an attempt to protect the jobs we have in Britain for those that were born here.

And when the employment figures are produced tomorrow I fully expect they will fuel yet more calls to curb immigrant labour and calls to expel those migrant workers already here.

I am rather assuming that the figures will finally show a fall in the construction workforce. If the figures reflect the plunge in the workload we should be looking at 100,000 to 150,000 fewer jobs in the sector, but who knows what will come out of the Office of National Statistics black box.

That is a very disturbing prospect, but I am not fully convinced that answer to improving job prospects in construction lies in stopping the entry of foreigners, however attractive the short-term gains may appear.

I'll come clean even if it does make me look to some like a woolly liberal and to others like a rabid free-marketeer, I was disappointed to see thousands of baying construction workers being used to fuel what smelt awfully like a xenophobic protest.

The national media may not get it, but anyone with any knowledge of construction and engineering construction knows that some jobs are for good economic reasons international and specialist - and the benefits and costs cut both ways.

Naturally I understand that when you feel your job is on the line you react. And the thought that people are being shipped in from abroad is likely to create a rumpus.

But, to adopt a blanket policy of kicking out Johnny Foreigner when the going gets tough is not the best way to build a sustainable and healthy economy, or, indeed, to build a sustainable and healthy construction industry.

While I am all for British jobs for British workers, I am not so keen on the easy misinterpretation that leads to British workers for British jobs.

The reality is that the migrant labour that poured into the UK over recent years filled gaps left by our inability to provide local skills. I could rage about the reasons for that for hours, but perhaps on another day.

We would have had a very different construction industry had they not arrived - a much smaller one.

And the great bonus for the British worker of their being here is that, if the anecdotal evidence is to be believed, now that our industry is faltering many migrant workers are returning home. That, in theory at least, reduces at the margin the likelihood of "British" workers being made redundant.

Now this repatriation is occurring among many who have every right to stay as well as others that could be denied access if the rules were tightened.

The "threat" if you like is clearly a result of the numbers of migrant construction workers arriving minus the number leaving. Now here we don't have numbers.

We also don't have the numbers on the impact of other countries pulling up the drawbridge to British construction workers who had planned to emigrate. It may well be that when the numbers are added up, ironically, the biggest threat to the jobs of British workers may come from other British workers denied entry to other hard pressed countries.

It is easy to forget that between 300,000 and 400,000 Britain's emigrate each years and the favourite spot is Australia.

So while of course I can fully understand the Australian public demanding Australian Workers for Australian Jobs, it is rather inconvenient for British workers with a passion for sunshine and surf.

All those British chippies, brickies, electricians and plumbers who will be denied the chance of building a better life down under are now going to be competing for the dwindling number of construction jobs in the UK.

So, while I am not advocating a free entry policy, I am advocating a "no knee jerk" approach. The costs and benefits of immigration is not a black and white issue and what we need is a thoughtful approach based on numbers and facts, not a blinkered approach built on prejudice and guesswork.

And one last thought, when this recession passes, as it will, the numbers as they now stand suggest that we will be scrabbling around more than ever for skills to sustain the construction industry. What then?