UK government considering
short-term visa scheme for
EU hospitality workers

Employers in the hospitality sector have welcomed news that the government is considering the possible introduction of a short-term visa scheme to help solve long-standing staff shortages in the industry.

According to reports which first appeared in The Times, the Home Office has begun discussions with some EU countries to agree on more youth mobility schemes to help improve the economy without raising net migration figures, which hit a record high last year.

The proposals would enable young people aged between 18 and 30 from selected countries to work in the UK for up to two years without requiring sponsorship from an employer. They would also be exempt from the skill and salary threshold requirements that apply under the Skilled Worker route, meaning employers could use the scheme to fill lower paid roles within their business.

The hospitality sector has been hit particularly hard by a combination of recent events including Brexit, the pandemic and a tougher economic environment. As an industry that previously relied heavily on free movement to recruit workers from the EU, the UK’s post-Brexit immigration rules have made it tougher for employers to fill certain vacancies such as waiters, baristas and housekeepers.

The number of job vacancies in the hospitality sector has fallen over the last year, although the sector continues to struggle with staff shortages, with trade body UKHospitality estimating that vacancies are around 48% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Raphael Herzog, Chair of the Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) said: “I understand that the Home Office is having discussions with a number of EU countries which could become part of the Youth Mobility Scheme.

Anything which can help us with recruitment of the staff we need to get our businesses fully up and running again is welcome and will make such a difference. We would also like the visa scheme to go beyond the EU, and be extended to the likes of India, as well as extend the roles it would apply to where we are currently experiencing shortages.

I understand the current proposals would cover positions such as baristas and waiters, but we would like it to be extended to cover chefs, therapists, room attendants and others.”

Mr Herzog welcomed the proposals but urged the government to listen to business owners and provide some long-term stability rather than relying on quick-fix, short-term solutions.

Recruiting hospitality workers from overseas

Most employers that need to recruit hospitality workers from overseas will apply to sponsor the workers under the Skilled Worker route. In order to utilise this route, the employer must hold a valid Home Office sponsor licence.

Currently, the Skilled Worker route enables licensed sponsors to recruit hospitality workers in a limited range of eligible roles, including:

  • 1221 Hotel and accommodation managers and proprietors
  • 1223 Restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors
  • 1224 Publicans and managers of licensed premises
  • 5434 Chefs
  • 5436 Catering and bar managers.

Hospitality businesses that do not have a sponsor licence or who need to fill other roles that are not eligible for the Skilled Worker route do have other options if they wish to employ international workers.

Most international students in the UK on a Student visa are permitted to work in some capacity around their studies. There are some restrictions, such as a cap on the number of hours that students can work during term time, but as the visa sponsorship is issued by the education provider, employers are not required to sponsor students working part-time.

International students who wish to extend their stay in the UK after completing their studies can also apply for a Graduate visa. This post-study work visa enables graduates to work, or look for work, at any skill level without requiring sponsorship from an employer.

Similarly, the Youth Mobility Scheme visa allows young people aged 18 to 30 from selected countries to work in most jobs in the UK for up to two years without employer sponsorship. The UK currently has reciprocal Youth Mobility Scheme arrangements in place with nine countries: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Monaco, San Marino, South Korea and Taiwan.

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The Home Office has so far not commented publicly on the reports about short-term visa schemes for hospitality workers, and it is understood that no formal deals for reciprocal youth mobility agreements have been struck. Smith Stone Walters will continue to monitor the situation and provide an update as and when more information is available.

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