Barista visa plan does the UK hospitality sector a disservice

“For the very low-skilled we’ve recommended what you’ve called the barista visa, which is to allow young people to come for two years, no extensions, learn the language, have some fun, go home. So I think that covers most of that.”

That is what Lord Green, founder and chairman of the Migration Watch UK think-tank, told the BBC’s Today programme last week. His proposal for a two-year post-Brexit visa for young non-UK EU workers is reportedly being considered by the government. It has also been welcomed by some coffee chain executives. It is an astonishingly complacent idea. Coffee chains are a small part of the UK’s tourist, hotel and restaurant industry, which the British Hospitality Association estimates employs one in 10 workers in the UK. And, as anyone who has stayed in a British hotel or eaten at a UK restaurant over the past decade knows, a large proportion of those hospitality workers are young Europeans.

Exactly how many non-UK EU citizens work in Britain’s hospitality sector is unclear. Most businesses in the UK began to calculate the number of continental Europeans they were employing only after last year’s Brexit referendum. A KPMG study in March for the BHA said that government figures suggested that EU nationals made up 12.3 per cent of the hospitality sector workforce. KPMG’s own survey thought this was an underestimate and put the true figure at 23.7 per cent. When KPMG looked at how many non-UK EU nationals worked in particular parts of the industry, it estimated that 24.6 per cent of chefs in the UK were non-UK EU nationals, as were 23.7 per cent of housekeeping and cleaning supervisors. About 19 per cent of reception staff were from elsewhere in the EU, and an astonishing 75.3 per cent of waiters and waitresses.