Leaked government plans to curb the number of unskilled EU migrants coming to the UK after Brexit have been met with concern by the hospitality trade, with some warning the plans could have ‘catastrophic’ consequences.
The Home Office document, entitled the Border, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the EU and dated August 2017, was obtained by the Guardian. It suggests free movement will cease when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, at which point the UK will adopt a ‘more selective approach’ based on economic and social needs.
The 82-page paper outlines that access to labour in industries without shortages may be curbed, while low-skilled migrants would be offered a maximum residency of two years.
Those in occupations deemed as ‘high-skilled’ would be granted three to five-year permits. It is understood the measures are being considered and have not yet been approved by ministers.
According to the Guardian, the paper says: ‘Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off.’
However, the proposals could mean that the hospitality trade would face a shortage of workers, trade bodies have warned.
Ufi Ibrahim, the chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said it would take around 10 years to train British workers to plug the gap.
‘If these proposals are implemented it could be catastrophic for the UK hospitality industry and for those who enjoy the hospitality it brings – whether it be in restaurants, theatres, hotels, bars and tourist attractions,’ he said.
‘The government need to be urgently reminded that so-called unskilled workers in hospitality – the ambassadors for our country – are necessary. It is not just the bankers and the lawyers that are needed to fill the employment gaps. Our research, from KPMG, shows that at least 60,000 new EU service workers are needed per year just to fill the vacancies in hospitality. The research showed that 75% of waiters, 25% of chefs and 37% of housekeepers are EU nationals.
‘And in London and the south-east, especially, some business rely totally on EU service workers. The UK has near full-employment so where are the recruits going to come from for the UK’s fourth largest industry that employs over 4.5 million people nationwide?’
British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive, Brigid Simmonds, added: ‘This document suggests that there may will be a cap on low-skilled workers which would undermine the needs of the pub industry, where we rely a great deal on those with the soft skills needed to provide great hospitality.
‘Whilst the brewing and pub sector does employ thousands of UK citizens, 17% of our 900,000 employees are from overseas and this rises to 40% plus, in metropolitan areas. For some companies it is much higher, particularly for kitchen staff.
‘The UK’s low unemployment rates are going to make it extremely hard to replace these employees with UK nationals. If there were to be a cap for EU employees, it must be at a level that can sustain our industry.’
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: ‘If this does represent the government’s thinking it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make – at all skill levels – across the food chain.’