London's hospitality industry reacts to government's new immigration proposals

london restaurants new immigration rules

Updated 24/2/20 with petition link

Yesterday the Home Office outlined proposals regarding its plans to introduce a "points-based" immigration system, and the impact on the hospitality industry looks to be particularly harsh. The two key issues that will affect London's hospitality trade surround the issues of base salary and 'skills'.

Along with other key requirements, like a confirmed job offer and the ability to speak English at the required level, visa applicants will, under the proposals, need to earn more than £25,600. That level drops to £20,480 if the position is in a 'specific shortage role' which doesn't include kitchen staff. In practice, this means there'll be no EU visas for entry-level jobs like waiting, kitchen porters, baristas and many hotel jobs too.

CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said: "With already low unemployment, firms in care, construction, hospitality, food and drink could be most affected." His was a view echoed by many in the industry.

Will Beckett from Hawksmoor tweeted yesterday: "There’s no doubt in my mind - as a direct result of this proposal not only will restaurants close, employment go down and tax receipts fall."

Beckett went on to say:

My timeline is full of people who are understandably upset about the words ‘low skilled’ and the government specifically picking out waiters and chefs as examples. It’s a sh*t use of words ...What I hope they mean is ‘no minimum qualification necessary’. We should embrace that: restaurant work is highly skilled but it doesn’t require qualifications (although they are available). What we need is character ... like empathy, hard work, interest in making others happy; life skills ... organisation, punctuality; and more than anything keenness and energy. What a great thing that a potentially great career has so few barriers to entry.

And it's the skills issue that has people particularly (and rightly) riled up.

Asma Khan of Darjeeling Express said:

Shame on the UK government who categorise people working in hospitality as "low skilled" and not eligible for post-Brexit visas. I want the PM to come serve tables in my restaurant for one day - then we can discuss what level of skills are needed in hospitality."

Restaurant critic Marina O'Loughlin was pretty scathing too: "Dear Govt, huge thanks for helping bugger the UK hospitality industry," she tweeted.

"You are killing our beautiful profession!" - added chef Damian Wawrzyniak while also chronicling the day of an "unskilled worker".

And it seems it didn't take long for people within the restaurant industry to feel the fallout from the government's new position in a particularly personal way, with Mei Mei founder Elizabeth Haigh tweeting this:

Summing up - we haven't seen anything from within the industry that supports these changes. The general consensus is that they can only have a negative impact on one of the UK's strong industries. 

A lot can happen in the 10.5 months left of the various negotiations, so we can only hope that some extra lobbying will see some change to these restrictions. Is there anything we, as restaurant-goers, can actually do? Well, the first would be to contact your local MP to make your feelings about the issue known. Also, Laura Christie and Selin Kiazim from Oklava have launched a Change Petition for you to sign here to revoke Priti Patel’s categorisation of ‘unskilled’ hospitality workers.

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