What visa options are available to food & drink businesses

What visa options are available to food & drink businesses

It is widely documented that there is a shortage of workers in certain roles in the food, drink and hospitality sector. There has been an increase in the number of vacancies in accommodation and food service activities, of nearly 88,000 (103.1%) in May to July 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels in January to March 2020 according to the Office for National Statistics.

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the end of freedom of movement appear to have impacted the ability to recruit overseas workers. Some sources report that since 2019, up to 196,000 international workers (including around 120,000 EU workers) have left the UK hospitality sector. Some of the staff shortages may also have been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic factors.

Some of the recruitment shortages have been in relation to what UK Visas and Immigration regard as ‘lower-skilled’ roles. While some of these roles are critical to the sector, they have not historically been eligible to be sponsored under the UK points-based system. However, there have been numerous changes to the UK immigration system over the past few years which mean that employers within the sector may have more options open to them than before to engage migrant workers in Scotland.

What options are available?

Skilled Worker route

This route was intended to be used for medium or highly skilled roles which left a gap for certain lower skilled roles. The UK Government has recently added additional roles to the list of jobs which are suitable for sponsorship. It also operates a ‘shortage occupation’ list meaning that certain additional roles are eligible for sponsorship on a temporary basis where there are significant shortages. These lists are regularly updated.

Certain jobs are included on the list of eligible occupations including chefs, catering and bar managers, hospitality managers, fishmongers and poultry dressers. This visa route requires a business to have a sponsor licence, which involves the cost of sponsorship and managing your sponsor obligations. Notwithstanding that some businesses in this sector, particularly in the fish and poultry processing sector have found it a useful way to recruit overseas workers when they struggle to recruit in the UK. Jobs with salaries as low as £20,480 can in some cases be eligible for sponsorship.

Frontier worker permits

These permits were introduced for those EU nationals who were working or were self-employed in the UK by 31 December 2020 but who were primarily resident outside the UK. This permit is available to those who have generally worked in the UK at least once every 12 months since they started working in the UK. The permit allows them to continue to come to the UK to work (although they cannot live here permanently). There may still be some EU nationals eligible to apply for one of these permits or you may be able to recruit individuals who hold one of these permits to complete some work for you on a temporary basis. Frontier worker permits are free to apply for and individuals can carry out any job at any skill level. No minimum rates of pay apply.

Seasonal Worker route

This is another temporary worker visa allowing successful applicants to come to the UK for up to 6 months to work in certain roles in horticulture for example picking fruit and vegetables or flowers. The individual must have a job offer in the UK through an approved scheme operator who would act as the sponsor. The scheme operators can find work for individuals who want to come to the UK with employers looking for temporary workers to assist them with eligible horticultural work. It provides an additional source of migrant workers for some sectors.

Youth Mobility Scheme

Another visa which some food and drink sector employers may benefit from is the Youth Mobility visa. Individuals aged 18-30 from certain countries can apply for this temporary visa which allows them to come to the UK to live and work for up to 2 years. The relevant countries are:

  • India (although the ballot for the India Young Professionals Scheme is not open yet)

This is a useful temporary visa option for a young person to travel to the UK to live and work. There are no minimum salary requirements imposed as part of the visa process and applicants do not need to be sponsored or have a job offer for a role at a certain skill level.

Other routes

There are potentially other options available to an individual migrant worker depending on their own circumstances such as an ancestry visa if they are a commonwealth citizen and have a British grandparent; or if they have other family in the UK, or are eligible for a dependent visa. Employers struggling to recruit the staff that they need should get in touch to consider all of the options. There are pros and cons of each visa category and the costs and timing may impact which route is best for you. Always check the detailed rules on the Home Office website or take legal advice.

The UK Government’s food strategy has recognized the key food industry shortages and it notes that it will work with the Migration Advisory Committee to review migration in the labor market to ensure that UK businesses can access the labor they require, so it is possible that more visa options will also be opened in the future.

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