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Migration Advisory Committee closes door on hospitality staff in post-Brexit Britain

Olivia Bridge, political correspondent and commentator for the Immigration Advice Service, discusses the impact of Brexit instability on the hospitality industry. 

Brexit instability has plunged the UK into a shroud of uncertainty these past three years with many widespread concerns shared among UK businesses going unanswered as the clock ticks on.

If there is one thing concrete to cling onto, it’s the skills-based immigration plan that will come into effect by 2021 which dictates all EU nationals will require a visa to enter, live or work in the UK. However, for the hospitality sector, the plan poses some serious repercussions to its stability and workforce.

Free Movement has long fuelled restaurants and hotels with a constant flow of staff. In fact, the sector is one of the highest recruiters of EU nationals who account for 19 per cent of the overall workforce, according to the latest Employer Skills Survey. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated in its report last year that 75 per cent of servers, 37 per cent of housekeepers, 24 per cent of chefs, 23 per cent of housekeeping managers and 13 per cent of hotel managers originate from the EU.

After Brexit, however, migrants looking to fill a position in a UK restaurant or hotel will face significantly higher hurdles. Not only must they apply and pay for a Tier 2 Work Visa, along with the additional, hidden fees such as the £2,000 Immigration Health Surcharge, but they must also meet an exhaustive list of requirements. Yet the requirements border on the impossible for hospitality workers since they must earn at least £30,000 a year to be eligible and have up to £1,000 in personal savings which elbows recent graduates and students out who haven’t even begun their career yet.

Since the Government are adamant in retaining the £30,000 income rule, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently released a report in which it advocated for numerous roles to be added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The SOL is a resource offered to alleviate widespread workforce shortages in the UK by actively advertising roles abroad. Having a role featured on the list offers relaxed rules to employers, who no longer need to conduct a laborious 28-day ‘resident labour market test’ by trying to recruit locally, while applicants can benefit from a marginal visa discount and can even earn below the Tier 2 salary expectation.

Despite recognising that hospitality alongside the agricultural and horticulture sector will be hit the hardest by the post-Brexit proposals, the MAC do not advocate to add hospitality roles to the list. In fact, the MAC recommends the Government does not support “sector-specific routes” since “low-wage sectors employers should compete against each other for labour”. Yet most smaller businesses – particularly in rural areas – simply can’t afford to raise wages, least of all to £30,000, which is far above the average rate for hospitality staff.

In a bid to tackle the inevitable shortfalls, the government does offer a 12-Month Temporary Visa after Brexit. However, this route is highly restrictive: migrants are unable to bring family members or children with them, they are unable to return to the UK once their placement expires for another year and they are unable to seek permanent employment in the UK and switch visas. This will only incur further costs as businesses in hospitality look to constantly train and replenish staff. The route also pulls the ladder up from young talent hoping to work their way up into supervisor or managerial roles.

Chefs are, at least, currently on the SOL. However, after Brexit, it could be that restaurants and hotels are competing against the lucrative opportunities’ businesses across the Channel in the remaining EU states can offer, which are crucially kept frictionless and free.

The wider impact of this is that the hospitality sector could suffer widespread vacancies and skills gaps. Businesses could become snowed under from the costs alone. Without reform or having positions added to the SOL at the very least, hospitality will be bitterly left behind.