If current forecasts are to be believed, nearly 200,000 new workers are required to meet additional growth in the UK hospitality industry by the year 2020. It is unlikely that the domestic workforce alone could satisfy this additional demand, leading many companies to look to overseas talent to plug the holes or be left with no choice but to constrain the pace at which they can grow. It is therefore concerning that the Government continues its rhetoric regarding cutting net migration, a policy stance which, if exercised in the wrong way, could place the accomplishments of the flourishing UK hospitality industry in jeopardy.
In pursuit of its goal, recent years have seen the Government shut down the Tier 1 (General) and Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa categories entirely, without putting in place any substitute measures. The Tier 1 General visa permitted highly skilled people to look for work or self-employment opportunities in the UK, whilst the post study work category was for recent UK graduates, granting a two year visa allowing them to seek work without needing a business to sponsor them.
The demise of the post study work visa is a particular blow for the UK hospitality industry as it allowed businesses to hire a foreign graduate straight out of university without tackling a mound of paperwork. Today, to recruit the same individual, a business will need to apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence (which can be costly in both time and money) and, in most cases, undertake a resident labour market test to prove that there is no suitable settled UK worker who can do the job being advertised. Anyone who has been through this process will appreciate the potential for this level of red tape to cause ill-afforded cost and delay to a business.
According to a 2013 report “State of the Nation” conducted by People 1st, 16% of UK hotels and 13% of restaurants complained of consistent, long-term difficulties in filling vacancies, overwhelmingly due to widespread skills shortages. In particular, hospitality sector managers, of which the industry will require an additional 133,700 by 2020, were the hardest vacancies to fill, alongside chefs, who are also in desperately short supply, the report found.
So what action is the Government proposing to take to ameliorate these issues? One of the tools that the Government has at its disposal to assist the hospitality sector is to add more industry focussed job types to its Shortage Occupation List, the latest version of which was published by the Home Office on 6 April 2014. The purpose of the list is to identify labour functions where there are not enough resident workers to fill the available jobs in that particular occupation. If a business has a vacancy for a job that appears on the list, then it will be able to bypass the resident labour market test when attempting to fill it with a foreign worker. History tells us, however, that there appears to be a distinct disconnect between what the Migration Advisory Committee, the non-departmental Government body who advises the Home Office on immigration policy, perceives as being a skills shortage and the actual demand for talent at the “coal face”.
We are, of course, sympathetic to the Government’s desire to ensure that British workers are not displaced by foreign labour but are concerned that the correct balance is not being struck at present. The Government’s priority for now should be to do whatever it can to encourage the World’s brightest and best to come through the UK’s turnstiles, whilst supporting universities, schools and other education and training providers in a drive to address the skills shortages and gaps in the domestic workforce in the longer-term.