How will the new immigration laws impact the catering and hospitality industry? 

New government immigration laws outlined on Friday the 21st of February promised to permanently end so-called ‘unskilled’ immigration into the UK from abroad. A new points-based system with a minimum annual salary threshold of £26,500 is set to be introduced on January 1st, 2021. 

As an HR technology platform that connects freelance and self-employed industry professionals, Brigad understands the wide-ranging impacts that these changes will have on the catering and hospitality industry at large. 

The new legislation could pose a huge risk to many of the industry’s professionals. Some of the UK’s most populous and vibrant hospitality ecosystems such as London, Manchester, and Edinburgh have a workforce that relies on non-UK workers. Thus, new rules will make it much more challenging for catering and hospitality businesses to operate in these cities. 

New rules may exacerbate current industry shortages. In our work, Brigad has seen a huge spike in demand for Chef de Partie’s – a role that requires a tremendous level of skill but one that is fast becoming harder and harder to recruit for. It is likely that when these new rules come into play in early 2021,  overall demand will fall for skilled positions, as businesses reduce recruitment in favour of focusing on retaining and training current staff with fewer non-UK workers competing for positions, forcing the industry to look internally.

The introduction of a minimum salary threshold is set to shake up the way the industry works and recruits. One should hope that an emphasis on retaining staff and training current workers will see conditions across the board rise as businesses look to ensure a prosperous future by maintaining current staff levels and improving their skills. 

Furthermore, the workforce is likely to see a rise in wages or stronger commitments (i.e. fewer short-term contracts) for positions as both businesses and professionals will have to commit to roles to ensure they meet new regulations. In addition, it’s likely the higher salary will attract talent in and increase motivation to come to the UK in many respects. 

However, new rules may have an impact on work/life balance and flexible working opportunities for the industry’s workforce – something that we know is becoming more valued by professionals within the sector who are searching for a more balanced life and increasingly looking at freelance opportunities. 

The ability to work flexibly will be reduced when new professionals looking to start a career in the UK will be tied to contracts that hit the minimum yearly salary limit. Furthermore, higher annual salary requirements mean that business owners and managers will likely have to pass their higher overheads onto consumers – these heightened costs will most likely be directly reflected in higher cover prices. 

However, it is possible that for the positions that have been designated as ‘low-skill’ under new regulations, roles such as Kitchen Porter or Commis, etc may feel some positive effects, with employers and professionals both having to commit to their roles, providing both parties with more stability as time goes on. 

Crucially the new rules contain almost arbitrary designations of the ‘skill-level’ of certain roles that could chip away at the pride of so many vital professionals within the industry. This reductive attitude to hospitality work could create a tiered system to an industry that requires and demands teamwork and self-expression at every level. At Brigad, we believe that the industry needs to become far more vocal in supporting workers who are deemed ‘unskilled’.

We think that those who work as Kitchen Porters, Commis Chefs or Cleaners are not ‘unskilled labour’ but these positions require expertise and professionalism to be executed to the right level. The industry must give those in it more reason to be proud of what they do, and to encourage a desire to work in the sector.

Finally, one of the most pressing issues with the new immigration rules is how they seem to discount the role that the hospitality industry can play for non-UK workers to develop their talent and skills for the wider British economy. We see in particular that entry-level positions exist as a great way for talent to develop, be it in terms of better language skills or widening their hospitality skillset. The fast-paced environments present a great environment for often young skilled talent to develop themselves.  

With our recent report revealing 63% of customers agree that good service is more important than any other aspect of their hospitality experience, it is time for the industry to focus inwardly on improving the working lives of those that work within it, and we trust that the government will need to create solutions to ensure outward regulations do not limit too heavily the talented pool of foreign nationals working in the catering industry. 

By Johan De Jager

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