The UK government’s plan not to award low-skilled workers visas under post-Brexit immigration plans has been branded “the biggest threat to Scotland’s tourism industry” by Scottish Tourism Alliance chief executive Marc Crothall.
Workers from European Economic Area countries currently have the right to live and work in the UK irrespective of their salary or skill level. But by implementing the points-based system the government outlined in its manifesto, it is aiming to reduce overall migration to the UK, while expanding the definition of skilled workers to include those educated to A-level/Scottish Highers-equivalent standard, not just graduate level, as is currently the case.
The government says this will end on 31 December, when the 11-month post-Brexit transition period ends.
Waiting tables and certain types of agricultural worker would be removed from the new skilled category, and the salary threshold for skilled workers wanting to come to the UK would be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600.
Marc Crothall said of the proposals, “This system will exacerbate the existing recruitment challenge the industry is already facing due to the current steady decline in international workforce retention and application and there not being a sufficient number of skilled workforce available to tap into, placing the sector, one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland in severe jeopardy.”
Overseas citizens would have to reach 70 points to be able to work in the UK. Speaking English and having the offer of a skilled job with an ‘approved sponsor’ would give them 50 points. More points would be awarded for qualifications, the salary on offer and working in a sector with shortages.
Steve Macfarlane, owner of Glenuig Inn in Lochaber, is no supporter of the plans but sees this as an opportunity for lighting a fire under the hospitality industry. He told DRAM, “We know that we are a valuable industry that generates billions for the economy. We know we employ hundreds of thousands of people. But these proposals tell us that the government doesn’t share this view. Sadly, these proposals only reinforce hospitality as an undesirable career yet if you go to Italy, say, there are waiters in their mid-50s loving what they do and making a decent living from what they deem a respectable hospitality career.
“So let’s see this as an opportunity to sort this one out once and for all and from the grassroots up, starting with education and what is taught at school about healthy career options.”
Marc Crothall also spoke about how Scotland’s situation is “unique” with “very fragile areas in our economy” which is why it is more important than ever that staff are retained. He has also called for a “differentiated system that is responsive to the specific needs of our tourism industry, our demography and our wider economy and sectors” suggesting that a bespoke Scottish Visa (endorsed by the Scottish government) is required to drive population growth rather than restrict it.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said that the proposals will stifle economic growth and exacerbate labour shortages.
She said, “Ruling out a temporary, low-skilled route for migration in just ten months’ time will be disastrous. Business must be given time to adapt. These proposals will cut off growth and expansion and deter investment in Britain’s high streets. It will lead to reduced levels of service for customers and business closures. Hospitality is already facing an acute labour shortage despite investing significantly in skills, training and increasing apprenticeships for the domestic workforce”
While the CBI welcomed some of the proposals, like the lowering of the salary threshold, it said some firms would be left with a recruitment crisis on their hands.
The CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, said, “Firms know that hiring from overseas and investing in the skills of their workforce and new technologies is not an ‘either or’ choice – both are needed to drive the economy forward.”