The managing partner of the UK’s largest architecture practice has issued a fresh warning to government over the recruitment of foreign talent
Matthew Street told the AJ his firm was facing a ‘massive issue’ over what the rules on residency in the UK will be for recruits from the EU during the Brexit transition period and beyond.
‘We really need clarity on what’s going to happen,’ he said. ‘If there are two things we’d ask from the government they are: Can we exclude students from migration caps? And secondly – and ideally: Can practices such as architecture practices be exempt from such a test or can EU nationals be exempt during the transition period?
’Every business needs to plan and to do that we need as much clarity as we can get. We’re talking directly to MPs and to the government and any other body which can influence things.’
While Street said the firm was ‘very proud’ of its British staff, he added that 85 per cent of Foster + Partners’ work was overseas and that the firm, which employs 1,061 staff at its Battersea headquarters, requires a highly diverse workforce to match.
The practice warned earlier this month that it might have to move its HQ out of the country if Brexit meant it could no longer attract world-class talent.
Responding to the recent news that 95 per cent of Tier 2 visa applications (the usual route into the UK for skilled workers from abroad) from architects are being rejected, Street said the real numbers of non-EU candidates shut out are even higher than this suggests.
’The numbers are actually worse than this,’ he said. ’Knowing that the minimum salary threshold is £50,000, there is no point at all in spending the money [on a visa application]. We have not even been putting people up for this because we know they won’t meet the test.’
According to research produced by the Greater London Authority and the London Festival of Architecture earlier this year, around a quarter of all architects working in the capital are from the EU. The report from the two organisations also found that London’s architecture sector is outperforming the London and UK economies, growing 9 per cent between 2009 and 2016 and producing £1.9 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA), a measure of the value of the goods and services produced.
Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture said: ‘London’s architecture sector thrives thanks to a talented and diverse workforce drawn from across the globe.
‘As Brexit and the transition period draw nearer, too much remains uncertain. It’s damaging to London’s architecture firms, and harmful to the talented individuals who make London’s architecture profession the best in the world.’
A spokesperson for the Home Office declined to comment.
Foster + Partners’ pleas come as aviation giant Airbus revealed that it may have to pull out of the UK if the government does not secure a post-Brexit trade agreement.
The five top business lobby groups have also said that large firms are increasingly making contingency plans to move operations out of the UK. The CBI, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Business and the manufacturer’s organisation the EEF told The Sunday Times earier this month that they are demanding more of a say over the final Brexit deal amid growing dismay over the negotiations.