Sacha Lord, NTIA Chairman and one of the UK’s four Night Time Economy Advisers, has called on the Government to ease visa rules to stem the jobs crisis hitting the hospitality sector.

The call comes as data analysts, CGA, report one in seven hospitality jobs are now unfilled, impeding business to the tune of 16% of revenues. Nearly half (45%) of businesses have reduced trading hours and a third have had to close for at least a day due to skills shortages. This data comes despite 77% of operators increasing pay to retain and attract staff, resulting in an 11% increase in average pay levels for hospitality staff over the past 12 months.

On Monday, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) said the shortage of workers across all sectors could cost the UK economy £30 billion every year unless the problem is tackled.

Lord has called for a relaxation to current visa rules to allow international entry-level hospitality staff to enter the workforce.The Office for National Statistics revealed in March that almost 100,000 EU nationals had left accommodation and food services in the two years to June 2021 — the highest of any industry, a result of the Covid pandemic which prompted many foreign staff to return to their families, and difficulties meeting the criteria needed in the EU Settlement Scheme introduced during Brexit.

As a result, the proportion of EU workers in the UK hospitality industry has dropped to its lowest level since 2019, and now account for just 28 per cent of the hospitality workforce, down from 42 per cent before the pandemic.

Those looking to work in the UK from the EU now require a skilled work visa. As set by the Home Office, in addition to minimum qualifications, workers must also meet a general minimum salary threshold of £25,600 per year as well as secure a full time placement, a considerable challenge for the hospitality sector due to the significant number of low-skilled roles and part time positions.

Lord, the Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, is seeking support from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to help place entry-level hospitality roles, including waiters, line cooks, and hotel receptionists onto the Government’s Shortage Occupation list, which offers lower barriers of entry and reduced visa fees for certain professions.

Lord said, “The right to work and live in the UK is now considerably more restricted for EU citizens. This is a challenge that is significantly impacting employers and creating a relentless employment gap in a sector already ravaged by debt burdens and weakened consumer spending.

“We have not yet seen a realistic or pragmatic approach to stemming this recruitment crisis despite countless warnings from the hospitality sector that this crisis would not only come to fruition, but escalate post-Covid.

“We were promised that bilateral relations with countries such as Australia will ease the difficulties, but two years on from our official exit from the European Union, and we still do not have any immediate, credible policies in place to aid businesses in their time of need.

“We require an urgent review of the Visa restrictions and a greater level of hospitality roles placed onto the Shortage Occupation list, in order to stave off further irreparable damage to a sector that brings £66bn per year into the UK economy.”

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