South African construction companies in high demand in the UK

Calling all businesses offering services in bricklaying, welding, roofing, carpentry and plastering.


In some parts of the UK, you cannot find a bricklayer ‘for love or money’ and it’s the same for many other skills. Image: Getty Images

Getting into the UK used to be a challenge for artisans, but that’s no longer the case.

A recently-published list of skills in high demand in the UK includes not just the usual openings for engineers, IT specialists and architects, but a host of artisan trades too, including bricklayers, welders, roofers, carpenters, plasterers, and care and hospitality workers.

Several South African companies specialising in artisan services have set up operations in the UK, making it possible for scores of South African tradesmen and women to move to the UK and earn hard currency.

“The UK is experiencing a severe skills shortage, the worst in decades,” says Saskia Johnston, client services director at Sable International, which assists South African businesses expand abroad.

“Although the skilled working visa conditions have been lifted considerably for artisan trades in the UK, you still have to be sponsored by a company. It will be difficult for a South African bricklayer, for example, trying to get into the UK job market because they do not have a proven track record in that market. The best way to do this is to get employment from a SA company that is expanding to the UK.”

Johnston says many businesses in the UK are struggling to fill key positions, so this is a great opportunity for South African entrepreneurs to expand abroad, and bring local skills with them.

“In some areas you cannot find a bricklayer for love or money, and it’s the same for many other artisan skills. It’s a great opportunity for local entrepreneurs to move into this space and bring South African skills along with them. It is also worth pointing out that South Africans are renowned for their work ethic and for their friendliness in areas such as care and hospitality work.”

One development making it easier for SA companies to expand abroad is a change to immigration laws which previously prevented a business owner from being sponsored by their own company for immigration and eventually naturalisation.

Two routes of entry

The two most preferred routes to entry to the UK are to open a company branch or set up a subsidiary. The biggest factor for consideration is that a branch is connected to the parent company and therefore the foreign entity trading will need to report to the UK tax authorities. With a subsidiary this is an entirely separate legal entity from the parent company.

As such, the most common route is to set up a subsidiary as opposed to a branch.

You’ll need to register a company in the UK, open a bank account and register for corporate tax, Vat and PAYE. While all this can take a few months, Johnston says Sable has assisted dozens of SA companies to make the move.

As part of the new UK government immigration regulations, businesses must have a sponsor licence to hire non-settled or migrant workers, including those from the EU and Eastern Europe. Again, Sable can assist with this, and one of the conditions of a sponsor licence is having the required HR policies and procedures in place.

Johnston says Sable can act as a “Level 1 user”, which gives it the authority to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), which is required for all workers applying for a skilled worker visa.

The route to British citizenship

Once you have a UK Skilled Worker Visa you can live and work in the UK for up to five years, at which point you can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). After holding ILR for 12 months, you can then apply for British citizenship.

Johnston dispels the myth that everything in the UK costs more than SA. “Housing is certainly more expensive, whether buying or renting, as well as eating out. But there are many things in the UK that are cheaper than in SA, and many people find this hard to believe. This includes food, nappies and basic groceries, depending, of course, on where you shop.”

The indicated salaries of the different professions in high demand in the UK are mouth-watering when converted back to rands. For example, health services and public health managers and directors can expect to earn at least 80% of £33 040, or R780 000 a year.

Brought to you by Sable International.

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William Murphy

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