Barista visa plan does the UK hospitality sector a disservice

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.
Europeans who have come to work in UK hospitality, the industry is constantly searching for workers. Hospitality businesses have more job vacancies than any other sector in the UK. The number of unfilled jobs has grown by 79 per cent in the past five years, KPMG said, and a third of those were classified as “hard-to-fill”. If all EU employees were allowed to stay in the UK after Brexit in 2019, if recruitment of British and rest-of-the-world workers remained constant and if no new EU staff were allowed in, the industry would face a worker shortfall of 60,000 a year. Over 10 years, the shortage would rise to 1m.
Many in the UK look down on hotel and restaurant jobs. The Pret A Manger coffee and sandwich chain estimates only one in 50 of its job applicants are from the UK because Brits do not consider it a “desirable place to work”.
Prime Minister Theresa May has accepted that UK business will require a transition period after leaving the EU. Barista visas or not, the hospitality business will need an extended one if its reception desks are to remain staffed and its restaurant meals served.