A quarter of chefs working in the UK are EU nationals – leaving restaurants facing a kitchen skills crisis if leaked immigration proposals are implemented, the British Hospitality Association has warned.
Leaked document from the Home Office last week exposed draft plans to end freedom of movement immediately after Brexit and offer low-skilled EU migrants two-year work permits, with high-skilled workers receiving visas for three to five years.
The move has drawn anger from the BHA, which argues that the foodservice industry deserves greater protection given its reliance on chefs, waitresses and housekeepers from the EU for labour.
Chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said that if the proposals are implemented it could be “catastrophic” for the UK hospitality industry.
“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 businesses 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?”
The BHA has submitted to the government a 10-year-plan to encourage more UK people to consider a career in hospitality, claiming it will take that length of time to bear results.
“The idea that so-called ‘unskilled workers’ would be able to stay for up to two years, whereas others can stay longer, is deliberately discriminatory and with other restrictions will add unnecessary red tape,” added Ibrahim. “We understand the need and the wish to reduce immigration but we need to tread carefully and be aware of the unintended consequences – some businesses will fail, taking UK jobs with them.”