The Hospitality Industry – Sorting The Immigration Skills Shortage
A look at how immigration solicitors can help with the recruitment crisis in the hospitality industry
When it comes to the tourism and hospitality sector, just when hospitality venues can finally open their doors again to paying customers, there is no staff to serve them. OK, that’s an exaggeration but a read of the BBC news article ‘’Restaurants struggle to find staff ahead of reopening’’ gives an idea of the recruitment struggle for restaurants, pubs and other hospitality venues, especially in London. If you are a customer, it may mean that you have to wait longer to be served, pay more for your pint or eat a microwaved meal as there’s no chef on duty. For the business owner, it is the start of a new nightmare, having thought that the UK vaccination drive was an end to all their troubles.
For UK immigration solicitors, it is tempting to say ‘’we warned you’’ but no one likes to be reminded of the arguments for and against immigration that were endlessly aired on the BBC and other news channels at the time of the Brexit referendum. COVID-19 has delayed the ramifications of Brexit. It is only now that the full impact of the new post Brexit points-based immigration system is hitting UK hospitality sector businesses and their customers.
The solutions are there and, in this blog, we look at the hospitality industry and immigration solutions.
UK Immigration and Employment Solicitors
The hospitality recruitment crisis
With rising UK unemployment rates, who would have thought that UK immigration solicitors would be writing articles about a recruitment crisis in the hospitality and tourism industry? There has been a long-held view that the job of a waiter or barista is unskilled and anyone can walk into the role. Our European neighbours take a different view on the importance of service skills. Whilst UK recruiters say surly teenagers can be taught to smile and serve, the UK’s younger generation is questioning why they should take a job with unsociable hours and that isn’t well regarded by their peers when they could be working in a call centre or enrolled on a media studies course.
Brexit and its impact on UK hospitality
Prior to Brexit and COVID-19, a lot of the UK's hospitality workers came from the EU as the free movement of European workers allowed them to work in the UK free from immigration control and without the need for a work visa. This was particularly the case in London and other major UK cities.
COVID-19 has meant many of those EU workers returned to their home countries, either through redundancy, furlough or simply a desire to go back to their country during the global pandemic. Industry bosses hoped those EU workers would flood back to the UK and take up one of the many advertised job vacancies in the hospitality sector. However, since the 31 December 2020, when free movement of EU nationals ended, an EU citizen can only work in the UK if they are eligible to apply for settled status or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or if they meet the eligibility criteria for a work visa or family visa.
The challenge that the hospitality industry faces is that:
- To recruit an EU worker, who arrived in the UK after the 31 December 2020 (or to recruit a non-EEA worker who is subject to immigration controls), the employer first needs to secure a Home Office issued sponsor licence.
- Once a sponsor licence is issued to the hospitality business, the employer can recruit EU or non-EEA workers but those workers have to meet the eligibility criteria for a UK work visa. The relevant work visa is the skilled worker visa and that visa has a minimum skill level as well as a salary threshold.
- There are costs associated with applying for a sponsor licence and sponsoring an overseas worker. For example, the sponsor licence application fee payable to the Home Office, the immigration skills charge and the administrative costs associated with complying with sponsor licence reporting and recording duties. Prior to COVID-19, hospitability businesses may have been able to absorb some of those costs without passing them all on to their customers. Now, with the hospitality sector struggling with the financial impact of COVID-19 related lockdowns, businesses may have no option but to put up prices to reflect their increased overheads.
- Paying higher UK salaries or recruiting from overseas (with the extra recruitment and associated costs) may therefore result in a rise in the price of a pint or a cup of coffee. That may be OK whilst foreign holidays are off the agenda and the UK hospitality industry has captive consumers. However, will UK hospitality price rises see UK holiday makers flood overseas for sun and competitively priced holidays as soon as they are able to do so?
In London more than fifty percent of hospitality workers are thought to have previously come from EU countries to work in the UK. The figure reduces to about thirty percent for the regions. Unfortunately, we don’t know the figures for EU workers in the hospitality sector who left the UK before the 31 December 2020 and who therefore now can't return to the UK without a UK work visa.
The statistics also don’t tell us how many EU workers there are in the UK who are employed in the hospitality sector but who haven’t applied for pre-settled status or settled status to enable them to continue to work in the UK’s kitchens and hotels. The cut-off date for new settled status applications is the 30 June 2021.
The settled status deadline – a real and present danger to the hospitality industry
It probably isn’t an overstatement to describe the deadline of the 30 June 2021 for settled status applications under the EU Settlement Scheme as a ticking time bomb. That’s because many of those in the hospitality industry, and just as many EU workers, don’t realise the importance of the 30 June 2021 deadline to them.
If a restaurant, coffee shop or pub or other hospitality venue employs EU workers then the date of the 30 June 2021 is important because:
- If an EU citizen came to live and work in the UK before the 31 December 2020, they are eligible to apply for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
- Any application for settled status or pre-settled status must be made by the 30 June 2021.
- If an EU worker fails to apply for settled status before the 30 June 2021 they can only stay in the UK if they secure a work visa or family visa or they fall within the very limited category of exemptions and are therefore able to apply late for settled status. Without a visa or a pending settled status application, the EU worker will need to leave the UK, even if they have a steady job in the hospitality industry or other sector.
- If your business wants to continue to employ EU workers on work visas (or employ new EU staff) the business will first need a sponsor licence. A business should not wait until after the 30 June 2021 to apply for one as then you won't be able to retain your existing EU workers. In addition, it is far more expensive for an employer to sponsor a worker than it is to employ an EU worker with settled status . That’s because of the direct and associated costs of a sponsor licence.
- Employers will need to check if their EU workers have the right to work in the UK. After the 30 June 2021 an employee who is from the EU will only have the right to work in the UK if they have applied for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or have another type of permanent residence or a visa. Continued employment of a worker who doesn’t have the right to work could mean that both the employee and the employer are in breach of the prevention from illegal working legislation and could face civil or criminal sanctions.
The solutions to the settled status deadline
Whether you are an employer or employee in the hospitality sector there is a solution to the settled status deadline. Employers need to encourage their EU employees to apply for settled status or pre settled status as by doing so the EU worker can continue to be employed without the employer needing a sponsor licence to sponsor the particular employee and without the employee needing a skilled worker visa.
Retaining current EU workers isn’t a long-term solution to the recruitment crisis in the tourism and hospitality sector as EU workers will change employment or will decide to leave the UK. Once an EU national has left the UK, they won't be able to return to work without either settled status or a visa, such as the skilled worker visa.
A solution to hospitality recruitment : recognising the skill
It is reported that the hospitality industry is raising five million to pay for training for up to ten thousand UK hospitality workers to replace those who haven’t wanted to return to the industry after losing their jobs because of COVID-19 or who have returned to their EU countries because of redundancy and who can't now return to the UK without a visa.
Hospitality industry chiefs are also calling for a rethink of the January 2021 introduced points-based immigration system, suggesting that a hospitality visa might be the solution, just as the health and care worker visa has provided easier UK immigration for those working in the health sector.
UK immigration solicitors say that with a sponsor licence, hospitality businesses will be able to meet some of their recruitment needs from the EU, and also from non-EEA countries, through sponsoring skilled migrant workers on skilled worker visas. With the right specialist legal advice and supporting paperwork, a sponsor licence can be obtained within a matter of weeks. If an employer doesn’t want the administrative burden of the reporting and recording duties that come with a sponsor licence then a sponsor licence management service can be used.
A sponsor licence for those employers in the hospitality sector may be your best recruitment route for hard-to-find employees. That’s because some hospitality workers, whether from the EU or from non-EEA countries, will meet the eligibility criteria for the skilled worker visa.
To qualify for a skilled worker visa, a job applicant doesn’t need a degree level job as the skill level for a skilled worker visa is the equivalent of an UK A level standard qualification. It is the job that has to meet the criteria, in terms of skill level, rather than the employee having to hold the equivalent of an A level qualification. Specialist immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors can advise on whether available hospitality vacancies are likely to meet the eligibility criteria for skilled worker visas and can then manage the sponsor licence and visa application and retention process for your business.
UK Immigration and Employment Solicitors
For expert and efficient immigration and employment legal advice on hiring EU hospitality workers or to make a sponsor licence application call the immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.