Construction minister aims to allow thousands of skilled migrants to work if they pass safety tests.
Construction minister Brian Wilson is holding talks with the Home Office over plans to encourage thousands of skilled immigrants to apply for work on UK construction sites, as long as they pass stringent safety tests.

The initiative follows a shake up of the asylum and immigration system announced this week by home secretary David Blunkett.

Wilson told Building that immigrants with much-needed construction skills, who might otherwise be tempted to enter the country illegally, could be allowed to apply for jobs if they passed health and safety tests demanded by trade unions. He said this would help the industry meet some of the acute shortages of skilled workers.

He insisted that concerns over safety and integrating immigrants into the workforce would be met. "Immigrants will have to pass the necessary safety qualifications, including the ability to be able to communicate, or face disqualification from working in the industry." He added that he was aware that illegal immigrants were a common sight in the industry.

Wilson said he would continue to consult with the Home Office as specific measures were agreed.

Under the changes in immigration announced by Blunkett, the Home Office will target skilled workers seeking work in the UK.

The Highly Skilled Migrant Entry Programme will operate in tandem with a cross-departmental ministerial group chaired by Home Office minister Lord Rooker, who is looking into illegal employment.

It is understood the government is looking at attracting up to 6000 skilled immigrants work in the UK construction industry.

Blunkett said at the Labour Party conference last month that the programme would look at attracting the immigrants to specific areas in the UK, such as London and the South-east.

He added that he wanted to look at managed opportunities for economic migrants who could obtain a legitimate job and contribute to the country's well-being.

Immigrants will have to pass the necessary safety qualifications

Construction minister Brian Wilson

Wilson said the immigrant programme was only part of the push to solve the skills crisis. He said: "We are keen to recruit from a large and neglected labour pool of young people, women and ethnic minorities."

Wilson praised a scheme run by Glasgow council that offers school leavers full-time apprenticeships in construction as a way of attracting teenagers into the industry.

Wilson also said he had called for an interim report on the quality mark initiative, launched in July.

He said 128 contractors had been recruited and 11,000 potential customers had visited the quality mark website.

Officials would gauge how successful the pilots had been before a decision was made to extend the scheme throughout Britain.

Wilson, who became construction minister after the election in June, said the industry was too fragmented. He said: "I don't think this is going to change and that's why my tactic is to deal with umbrella bodies."

Wilson said that, although the industry is world class, it needed to continue to improve by embracing the Egan agenda. He said his priorities for the industry were the same as Egan's strategic forum.

He said: "I support the strategic forum's priorities of increasing client leadership, incorporating an integrated supply team, improving health and safety and the whole Rethinking Construction initiative."