Industry calls for immigration rethink

New points-based system “potentially catastrophic” for hospitality sector

Home secretary Priti Patel unveiled plans for a new immigration system

HOSPITALITY leaders are pressing for a radical overhaul of the proposed points-based immigration system, labelling the new approach “potentially catastrophic” for the industry.

Trade groups are writing to the secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, and are to meet with first minister Nicola Sturgeon to outline concerns about the “damaging effect” the proposed new regime will have on pub, restaurant and hotel businesses across Scotland.

Under the UK government’s plans announced by home secretary Priti Patel, free movement will end on January 1, 2021 and a new points-based system will come into force; points will be assigned for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions, with applicants requiring a total of 70 points. The UK government said it “will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route”.

“We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation,” it said in its policy statement. “Employers will need to adjust.”

But the new system, under which the government said 70% of the existing EU workforce in the UK would not meet the requirements, has come under fire from hospitality industry trade groups, who say it will seriously impact on the sector.

Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at UK Hospitality (UKH), said ending free movement of people is “potentially catastrophic” for an industry which is “facing high vacancy levels due to record low unemployment levels”.

“Hospitality employers have not relied on low paid migrant labour; growth in the sector in recent years has been supported by a ready supply of highly competent and skilled staff recruited from EU / EEA countries,” he said.

“Hospitality employs some 275,000 staff in Scotland …the vast majority of whom (around 80%) are UK nationals and who have great skills and look after our customers. Non-UK staff have been needed to fill jobs in an expanding sector – hard to fill jobs that do not always appeal to local workers.


“Immigration policy needs to recognise that hospitality jobs are not unskilled and these jobs need to feature in the Shortage Occupation List. There cannot be a cliff edge on December 31.

“UKH would like to see some flexibility built in to the new arrangements; we need an immigration system that is fit for purpose throughout the country, which recognises sectoral needs and economic and demographic circumstances in different regions and nations of the UK. The Scottish Government has put forward well-argued proposals for a tailored approach to immigration in Scotland – including the case for a Scottish Visa – within the wider UK framework. There is growing support for this approach, which may well become a clamour if the kind of concessions referred to earlier are not forthcoming.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the new points-based system “appears now to be the biggest threat to Scotland’s tourism industry”.

“These plans totally disregard the skill set and importance of those who work in the sector and go against what is needed in Scotland as a whole – a need for population growth, which is why the STA in principle fully supports the Scottish Visa proposal recently announced by Scottish Government,” he said.

“Scotland’s situation is unique; we have very fragile areas in our economy and it is more important than ever that we’re able to attract and retain people, particularly in the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas.

“We need a differentiated system that is responsive to the specific needs of our tourism industry, our demography and our wider economy and sectors.”

This was reinforced by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which said EU workers currently account for around 50% of the workforce in half of Scottish tourism and hospitality businesses – with 70% of accommodation providers relying on staff from the EU.

The trade group argued that “any system introduced has to be flexible and based on the skills and needs for industry on a sector and country/regional basis”.

Emmanuel Moine, GM of Inverness hotel the Glen Mhor and chair of the Inverness Hotels Association, said 70% of his hotel’s housekeeping staff are from overseas.

“We have no staff locally at all,” said Moine.

“What are we going to do? Nobody has any answer.

“It’s a serious threat to the industry. It’s not helping us and is a threat to Scotland.”

The industry has also objected to the description of migrant staff as “low-skilled”.

Neil Ellis, group operations director of Place Hotels and chair of Edinburgh Hotels Association, said the term is “extremely unhelpful and completely untrue”.

“I’d like to be in the room when one of the proponents of the new system tells a highly trained room attendant, with first aid skills, COSHH training, allergens, product awareness and a high attention to detail they are low skilled,” said Ellis.

Stephen Leckie, chairman and chief executive of the Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels, said the company’s workforce has fallen from 40% overseas workers to 29% in the three years since the Brexit referendum.

“To say staff are low-skilled is offensive,” he said.

“Those who say it is low-skilled should come in and see how much training we do. It takes up to three months to train on check-ins at reception – that’s a skill.”

Nicola Taylor, chief executive of Chardon Hotels, whose overseas workforce has fallen from 45% to 25% since the Brexit vote in 2016, said the hospitality sector will be “very badly impacted” by the proposed new system.

“The government is saying businesses should invest in technology and automation and the hospitality sector has done, but there’s only so much machines can do in our industry,” she said.

“And to say staff are low-skilled is just not true. I don’t know how knowing about food, wine, provenance, allergens, etc. is low-skilled.”