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Summer Hospitality Blues? Our Immigration Expert Reveals Solutions to Staffing Woes

As an immigration lawyer, I understand the challenges the hospitality sector is facing in terms of skill shortages, particularly as we head into the busy summer holiday season. One potential solution that could help alleviate this issue is for businesses to consider employing students, including those currently in the UK under the Student Visa immigration category.

Migrants in the UK on a Student Visa are normally permitted to work 20 hours a week during their term time and full-time outside of term time. This could provide a valuable resource for the hospitality industry as they struggle to fill vacancies. Furthermore, at the completion of their educational course, the migrant worker can switch onto a Skilled Worker visa if the business wishes to continue with their employment.

Another aspect worth considering is the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), which highlights the jobs that the government considers to be in short supply and allows employers to recruit workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to fill those vacancies. The SOL is updated on an annual basis by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), and employers can apply for a Tier 2 visa for any non-EEA worker who is offered a job in an occupation on the SOL.

In March 2023, the MAC published its interim ‘Construction and Hospitality Shortage’ review to the Home Office, highlighting the extensive labour shortages across the two sectors. However, the report did not recommend the addition of any occupations in the hospitality sector to the SOL. Additionally, the MAC refused to reverse its recommendation to remove chefs from the SOL, a decision that was highly criticized by industry professionals after the report was published in March 2020.

Despite acknowledging the high vacancy rates in the hospitality sector compared to pre-pandemic levels, the MAC stated that it had not received substantial evidence proving that shortages cannot be filled with domestic recruitment. It also noted that many occupations in this sector are at skill level RQF 1-2, requiring an exceptional argument for immigration to be used to alleviate the shortage.

As businesses explore various incentives and strategies to attract and retain staff, considering the potential of hiring students on Student Visas could be a viable solution for the hospitality sector's ongoing challenges. It is essential, however, for the industry to continue advocating for changes to the SOL and to provide evidence supporting the need for migrant workers to fill skill gaps.

The UK's hospitality sector is still short-staffed and businesses fear they will struggle to cope over the busy summer holiday season.

It comes as former government minister George Eustice called for EU workers to be allowed into the UK to ease post-Brexit shortages.

Trade body UK Hospitality also said staffing was in "serious crisis" - with vacancies 48% higher than pre-Covid.

The government said staff could be hired under its points-based system.”