Hospitality businesses wanting to employ migrant workers from outside the European Union have been urged to apply for a licence by 1 October or risk being barred from recruiting them.
The call came after it emerged that just 168 employers have been given licences to employ migrant workers under immigration rules that come into force in November.
Under Tiers 2 and 5 of the new points-based system - covering skilled migrant workers and overseas temps respectively - organisations wishing to hire workers from outside the EU need to be listed on the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) register of sponsors.
With those tiers due to come into force in November the Home Office has advised employers wishing to register to apply by 1 October to leave enough time for UKBA inspection visits.
But to date, the Home Office has granted sponsorship licences to just 168 employers, with thousands of businesses still to apply, Caterersearch sister website PersonnelToday.com has revealed.
Earlier this year, legal experts had warned there could be a bottleneck in sponsorship applications as employers woke up to the application deadline.
A UKBA spokesman said: "Our message to businesses is loud and clear - if you want to employ foreign workers from outside the European Economic Area, you need to apply now for a sponsor licence."
The British Hospitality Association said it has been warning members about the upcoming changes for "a few months" and advised operators to get their skates on.
By Daniel Thomas
E-mail your comments to Daniel Thomas here.