Government closes door on 'low-skilled' EU migrants

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Government closes door on 'low-skilled' EU migrants

Related tags Immigration Casual dining

Proposed changes to the immigration system have provoked fierce condemnation from the hospitality industry, with trade body UKHospitality calling it “disastrous” for the sector.

Due to take effect in January 2021, the plans would make it impossible for hospitality businesses to secure EU migrants for entry-level waiting and cooking roles, as well as kitchen porters and baristas.

Proposals revealed by the Government yesterday (18 February) show that it intends to end ‘low-skilled’ migration from the EU once the UK leaves the bloc at the end of the year.

In its place, the Government plans to introduce a points-based system for ‘skilled’ workers wishing to come and work in the UK, which will include a minimum salary threshold of £25,600.

Those earning less than £25,600, but more than £20,480, would still be able to apply for a visa if it was to work in a “specific shortage occupation” role; while anyone earning less than £20,480 would not be able to take a job in the country.

With the majority of hospitality businesses heavily reliant on EU migrants for such roles, the new rules look likely to cause an unprecedented recruitment challenge.

In 2017 Pret A Manger said just one in 50 people​ who applied for a job in its cafes was British, and 65% of its workforce originated from EU countries outside the UK. Pret declined to comment on the new immigration proposals today, as did a number of other large hospitality businesses.

Others have expressed sadness and concern. “We were shocked and saddened by the news which seems particularly short sighted after Brexit and causes yet another unnecessary obstacle to engaging and harnessing the huge talent we have always enjoyed from Europe and which has helped us to shape and grow our businesses, alongside our UK workforce," says Zuleika Fennell, managing director at London-centric restaurant group Corbin & King. 

"Worse still, we feel that the immigration restrictions continue to endorse the widely held misconception about the hospitality industry (the UK’s third largest private sector employer) being low skilled, poorly paid and not capable of attracting the “brightest and best” something which Corbin & King has always challenged and refuted.”

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls says ruling out a temporary, ‘low-skilled’ route for migration in 10-months time will be disastrous for the sector.

“Business must be given time to adapt,” she says.

“These proposals will cut off future growth and expansion and deter investment in Britain’s high streets. It will lead to reduced levels of service for customers and business closures.”

Under the proposals, the Government is urging employers to “move away” from relying on “cheap labour” from Europe, and instead invest in retaining staff and developing automation technology.

However, Nicholls says this is something the industry is already committed to.

“Hospitality is already facing an acute labour shortage, despite investing significantly in skills, training and increasing apprenticeships for the domestic workforce. We are facing record low levels of unemployment, a dip in young people entering the labour market and have the highest vacancy levels of any sector.

“We understand the Government’s desire to deliver on the referendum result and its aim of moving to a skills-based immigration system. We fully support the ambition to up-skill the domestic population and provide opportunities for people in every part of the UK. These proposals fail to deliver on the Government’s own objective of providing an immigration system which works for the UK’s economy and its people.”

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