The Lowdown: changes to Skilled Worker visas

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

What do the Government's changes to Skilled Worker visas mean for restaurants

Related tags Visas Immigration Staffing brexit Government Staff

The Government has released important new information about its changes to a means of employing staff from abroad that has been a 'lifeline' for some parts of the hospitality industry.

Didn’t all this happen before Christmas? Why are we talking about it again now?
Following what felt like a rather hurried announcement in December,​ the Government has released important new information about the changes. And - having been preoccupied by what was happily a busy festive period - the industry is starting to make its thoughts on the matter known. 

What’s the verdict? 
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the hospitality sector in favour of it. Speaking to The Guardian,​ Gusto boss Matt Snell described the Government’s decision to increase the salary threshold for Skilled Workers by nearly 50% as “another nail in the coffin of the hospitality industry”. Over the past 18 months, Snell says he has recruited some 30 chefs (mostly from India) under the scheme but the rise in minimum salary from £26,200 to £38,700 looks set to cut off what he has previously described as a ‘lifeline’ for his 14-strong Italian restaurant business. “The Tories have got themselves so wrapped up in this ‘stop the boats’ thing, that immigration is everything, that they’ve decided to clamp down without really understanding the effect it will have on different industries,” he says.

Oh dear. What are these updates?
There was initially a lack of clarity around what the changes meant for those already in the country on a Skilled Worker visa. The Government has now signalled that this cohort will be exempt from the new salary levels when they change sponsor, extend their visa, or settle. However, the Home Office says that it ‘expects their pay to progress at the same rate as resident workers’. 

How does the Skilled Worker visa actually work?​ 
How long have you got? The first step is to apply for a sponsorship licence. Once this is in place, the employer needs to identify suitable candidates. As the name suggests, an individual looking to enter the country via the Skilled Worker route needs to have the requisite skills. As such, the route is only really available for chefs at chef de partie level or above with the barrier for front of house set higher, in most cases restaurant managers or bar managers only. The applicant also needs to have a good grasp of English.

When do these changes to the minimum salary come into force? 
Sometime in April. Restaurant understands that hospitality operators - and employers more generally, not least the care sector which is also set to be hit hard by this - are now scrambling to get people into the country on the current minimum salary level. This seems like a bit of an own goal for the Government as a spike in migrant workers entering the country just ahead of a general election is surely the last thing it needs.   

It’s almost as if the Conservatives are panicking... ​ 
As evidenced by Rishi’s controversial plan (it was recently described as "batshit" by Home Secretary James Cleverly) to deter undocumented migrants from crossing the Channel on small boats by sending them to Rwanda. Number 10 is under enormous pressure to be seen to be decreasing net migration, which - ironically enough - has rocketed post Brexit. According to official figures, in 2022 net migration hit a record 745,000. In 2016 (the year the UK voted to leave the EU) net migration was less than half that figure. The industry is now paying a heavy cost for the Government’s ideological drive to reduce net migration.  

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