With statistics showing that around 15% of the hospitality workforce is made up of EU nationals, it is unsurprising that the immigration implications of Brexit are a real hot topic for the sector. In this feature, Jacqueline Moore, our Head of Immigration, and Gillian Moore, Employment Law Associate, guide us through some of the immigration hurdles hoteliers face in relation to their current and future workforces in an ever-changing, mid-Brexit UK.
Impact on future workforce
The recently published report of the Migration Advisory Committee ('MAC') confirmed that, if Brexit results in an end to the free movement of people, it sees no benefit in a preferential system for EU citizens. Further, it recommends against the introduction of schemes for low-skilled employees. The MAC's view is that there is no need for such schemes as there is already a sufficient pool of low-skilled workers in the UK – a statement employers in the hospitality industry, who are already facing labour shortages as a result of Brexit concerns, are sure to disagree with. It is difficult to see where hotels are going to source the labour to meet their operational needs following Brexit, a situation that is only compounded by the additional challenges of low unemployment and the 'job' not 'career' mentality across UK hotel workers.
While the sector may welcome the proposal to lower the skill level required for a Tier 2 visa – thereby expanding its reach to a much wider skill base that is likely to include hotel managers – it is also recommended that the minimum salary for such workers remains at £30,000. Hotel businesses that could benefit from the lowering of skill levels will no doubt be concerned about the viability of meeting these salary thresholds, in addition to the costs of the visa process, which include an Immigration Skills Surcharge (ISC) of £1000 per worker per year which must be borne by the employer.
The abolition of the costly and time-consuming 'Resident Labour Market Test' and removal of the cap on Tier 2 workers coming to the UK may furnish the silver lining for hospitality employers providing attractive and newly more-accessible employment opportunities to candidates from across the globe who can afford to bear the cost of the visa process.
Impact on current workforce
Earlier in the year, employers welcomed the clarity supplied by the Government in its announcement on the status of EU workers post-Brexit. With a clear 'keep calm' message, we were reassured that:
- EU workers would not be required to leave the UK on Brexit;
- those who had lived in the UK for 5 years or more would be able to apply for 'settled status' in order to stay and work in the UK indefinitely; and
- those who had lived in the UK for less than 5 years would be able to apply for temporary 'pre-settled status' allowing them to remain in the UK while they acquired the necessary 5 years residency to qualify for settled status.
We were given further reassurance that there would be a low administration fee (£65) and that there would be no need to rush to secure status once the new system was launched, as there would be a two-year transition period beginning on 'Brexit day' – 29 March 2019. All indications have been that this settled status scheme will be implemented regardless of the overall Brexit deal.
So far so good...
However, proving the point that things will keep moving until the music stops, the Immigration Minister announced on 30 October that employers would be required to carry out 'adequate rigorous checks' on all EU nationals in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but that the government is not yet sure what these checks will involve. It is unsettling that the government has not confirmed that an EU passport will be sufficient to satisfy an employer's 'adequate rigorous checks'. If a passport will not be sufficient, and the checks will involve confirming 'settled' or 'pre-settled' status, this has the potential to throw the settled status scheme up in the air. While we have been reassured that the scheme will apply in a no-deal Brexit scenario, the scheme will not be able to register the estimated 3.3 million EU nationals before Brexit to allow employers to satisfy their checks. The scheme is not yet open, and when it does open we expect it to be overwhelmed by an avalanche of applications. We hope that further clarification on this, and an update on the scheme launch date, will follow swiftly.
In the meantime, we are advising hoteliers:
- to audit their workforce: have a clear understanding of how many EU nationals you employ and who they are;
- to stay on top of developments: things are moving quickly so it is important to stay informed, particularly around key dates (such as the opening of the settled status scheme);
- that good communication with employees is essential: talk to staff, let them know you're on top of this issue through regular updates/bulletins, invite them to talk to you, and give what reassurances you can;
- to consider how you may wish to support staff through the settled status application process, perhaps assisting with the fee or providing support with the application itself; and
- to review their current 'right to work' practices for non-EU nationals: ensure you are adopting best practice and are equipped to deal with more checks if/when these are required for EU nationals.
This is a difficult time for EU workers, their families, and their employers, so it is important for employers to communicate well with their staff. Our immigration specialists and expert Brexit advisers have been providing extensive support to a number of organisations in the run up to Brexit, and this has included group sessions and one-to-one sessions with EU staff. Our team would be happy to discuss requirements with you further.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.