Construction workers from the EU should have the right to “settled status” in the UK after Brexit, industry bodies have urged.

The construction sector, which employs around 3 million people, faces “cliff edge” skills shortages over access to EU workers, the seven bodies said.

The Home Office said there would be an “implementation period” for a new immigration system after Brexit.

And EU citizens would be able to apply for settled status, it added.

The UK already has severe construction skills shortages, the bodies said in their new Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto.

These could be exacerbated without a two-year transitional period that involves “a clear path to settled status”, it said, not only for EU workers who are already here, but for those who arrive within that period.

“For those entering the UK during the implementation period there appears to be little certainty that they will have the right to remain beyond those two years,” it said.

The industry wants to recruit and train additional UK workers, but this will take time, said Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.

“We know we need to step up as an industry and train more home-grown talent but we also have to be realistic about the future.

“There will continue to be some ongoing need for migrant workers and our post-Brexit migration rules will need to be fit for purpose,” he said.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, said:

“With the country facing a shortage of skilled workers and the most acute housing crisis in living memory, the government needs to provide certainty to existing EU workers in the UK and enable construction SMEs to attract more home-grown talent into the industry.”

Touching distance

A Home Office spokesman said the government would put a post-Brexit immigration system in place “which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.”

“We are carefully considering the options for the future immigration system and will set out our plans shortly.

“We have already been clear there will be an implementation period after we leave the EU to avoid a cliff edge for businesses and that EU citizens already working in the UK will be able to apply for settled status so they can stay,” he added.

UK immigration minister Brandon Lewis had a meeting with construction industry representatives in September to listen to their views, the spokesman said.

He added that the UK was “within touching distance of an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights” after Brexit.

In September activity in the UK construction sector contracted for the first time in 13 months, a closely watched survey said.

The commercial property industry was affected by political and economic uncertainty, it found.