New immigration plans to intensify hospitality labour shortages

7 December, 2023

Hospitality industry leaders are cautioning against the recently proposed immigration regulations that are set to increase the minimum salary for a skilled worker visa. It is suggested that such changes will significantly diminish the pool of talent available for businesses to recruit from.

On 4th December, Home Secretary James Cleverly revealed a comprehensive five-point plan aimed at reducing immigration, featuring a substantial revision of the shortage occupation list. The forthcoming regulations, expected to be implemented next spring, will witness a nearly 50% increase in the earnings threshold for a skilled worker visa, soaring from the existing £26,200 to £38,700.

Addressing Members of Parliament, the Home Secretary emphasised that immigration levels in the UK are deemed excessively high and underscored the need for a reduction in migration to the country.

James Cleverly said:

“Enough is enough. Immigration policy must be fair, legal, and sustainable.”

In response to the announcement, Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, pointed out that the new plans would make approximately 95% of the 8,500 hospitality visas issued last year ineligible.

Nicholls commented:

“These changes will further shrink the talent pool that the entire economy will be recruiting from, and only worsen the shortages hospitality businesses are facing.

Around three-quarters of hospitality’s workforce is filled from within the UK, but international talent has always been attracted to work in the UK, due to our pedigree for hospitality and developing careers.

We urgently need to see an immigration system that is fit-for-purpose and reflects both the needs of business and the labour market. The system at the moment does none of that.”

In addition to modifying the skilled worker visa, the Government is exploring revisions to the shortage occupation list. Currently, this list identifies skilled positions facing a scarcity of local workers, facilitating the recruitment of individuals from abroad. This is primarily achieved by allowing a 20% reduction in the salary threshold for foreign workers qualifying for a skilled worker visa to enter Britain.

However, as part of Cleverly's strategy, the Government intends to eliminate the 20% salary discount for shortage occupations. Instead, it plans to introduce a new 'immigration salary list' that will maintain a general threshold discount.

Under this proposed system, the Migration Advisory Committee, responsible for advising the Government on migration matters, will assess the new list in relation to the increased salary thresholds. The objective is to reduce the number of occupations included in the list.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, expressed concern that these changes could render it impractical for many hospitality businesses to recruit talent from overseas.

McClarkin said:

“The Government needs to consider ways to reduce the overall costs and complexities of the immigration system, recognising that many businesses in this sector are SMEs and a balanced immigration strategy that addresses concerns on overall numbers but also fuels growth and supports British businesses.

As we enter the festive season, staff shortages in pubs can be exacerbated and skilled roles such as chefs and kitchen staff can be even harder to recruit the best staff.”

These adjustments emerge at a time when businesses in the hospitality sector are contending with persistent recruitment challenges.

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