The UK government has snubbed recommendations for COVID hospitality visas despite a growing staff crisis across the sector. Instead, ministers want employers to focus on training and investing in the domestic workforce and branded the idea of a coronavirus recovery visa as ‘inappropriate’ while thousands of staff remain on furlough.
The Home Office told iNews that it had officially rejected the visa proposals, which did have the backing of UKHospitality and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, despite pubs and restaurants struggling to fill thousands of vacancies.
According to official data, the hospitality industry currently has approximately 188,000 vacancies with 80% of venues experiencing staff shortages. Prior to the pandemic, 24% of hospitality workers across Britain were from overseas. The percentage rose closer to 60% in London.
However, the government has urged pub and restaurant owners to focus on the UK’s domestic workforce to fill vacancies.
iNews was told by the Home Office that: “Throughout the pandemic, the government has implemented an unprecedented package of measures to support workers and businesses right across the UK.”
“We want employers to focus on training and investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment as a result of the restrictions, rather than relying on labour from abroad. It would be inappropriate to introduce a new visa route with high numbers of people in the sector benefitting from the furlough scheme,” the Home Office said.
During a recent Prime Minister’s question time, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran urged Boris Johnson to take action after championing temporary visas, including those used in Australia.
Moran told iNews: “The Prime Minister doesn’t seem to understand the situation. The industry is on its knees. It’s a perfect storm of Brexit and the pandemic and even with workers back from furlough, there will be a shortfall in staff, especially when restrictions lift and things get busier.”
Seasonal worker visa
Ms Moran said that the UK seasonal worker visa, which allows people into the country to work in the farming sector doing jobs such as fruit picking, had ‘set a precedent’ and could be easily and effectively replicated in the hospitality industry.
Sadiq Khan had already pushed the government to act, quoting figures that showed around 30% of all hospitality employees came from outside the UK prior to the lockdown.
The London Mayor said: “With the double whammy of the pandemic and new UK visa rules making it harder to recruit workers with the necessary skills, hospitality venues now need our help to make it easier for them to recruit the staff they need, both from here in the UK and overseas.”
Although many immigrant advocates believe that a new UK visa scheme would be the fastest and most cost-effective solution, ministers have instead developed a promotional campaign to see hospitality training rolled out in partnership with Jobcentre Plus.
One chef, who asked to remain anonymous, told iNews: “The idea is fine and of course it would be good to get more people in Britain valuing hospitality and seeing it as a career. But these things take time and the crisis is now – if we don’t have the staff, we can’t do business properly, and everyone will suffer.”
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