Under a government plan to come into force on January 1st 2021, a new points-based immigration system is likely to seriously reduce the so called ‘low-skilled’ labour pool. Sectors such as the food and beverage industry rely heavily on a labour pool of ‘low-skilled’, foreign workers and there are concerns that these sectors will suffer worst at least in the short term.
Currently, workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) have an automatic right to live and work in the UK, regardless of their salary or skill level.
Under the new system, overseas citizens (whether from the EU or elsewhere) would need 70 points to be able to come and work in the UK. Speaking English and having an approved sponsor as employer would give an individual 50 points. More points would be awarded for qualifications, salary offered and working in a sector with shortages.
A salary threshold will mean that workers will have to earn a salary of £25,600 or over to successfully apply for a visa. However, this threshold may be reduced as low as £20,480 for ‘specific shortage occupations’, such as nursing and civil engineering.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has stressed a number of concerns. Mark Harrison, Policy Manager for Employment and Access to Labour, has said that the system could create a shortage of essential workers in the food industry. He points to the UK’s current low unemployment and high number of job vacancies as indicating a need for an entry system that allows access for low-skilled workers while retaining control of immigration.
UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls says a lack of a low-skilled immigration route from January 2021 would be disastrous for the sector.
Tim Martin (founder of pub chain JD Wetherspoon and well-publicised Brexiteer) said in 2017 that Britain could not afford to put the brake on immigration and proposed a special deal for EU workers to take advantage of their proximity over workers from countries such as India or China.
Also in 2017 the HR Director of Pret a Manger, Andrea Wareham, described how 65% of its workforce came from other EU countries and that the company would find it virtually impossible to find enough staff if it were to turn its back on EU nationals after Brexit. She reported that 1 in 50 job applicants were British. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is urging employers to ‘move away’ from relying on ‘cheap labour’ although Ms Wareham describes a difficulty not in selecting, but in attracting British applicants.
James McAllister, in bighospitality.co.uk writes that the government’s plans will make it impossible for hospitality businesses to secure EU migrants for entry-level waiting and cooking roles and to fill roles as kitchen porters and baristas.
The Home Secretary cites the need for employers to invest in retaining staff and develop automation technology and describes the government’s intention to “encourage people with the right talent” and “reduce the levels of people coming to the UK with low skills”. Whatever the long-term intention of an upskilled population, it appears that the hospitality sectors are going to find things difficult and it is likely that many businesses will suffer.