It's time to celebrate our international talent not discourage it, says Peter Ducker, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality
Opposition to immigration is nothing new; it stretches back to at least the 1960s. But during the recent recession and the years following the 2004 enlargement of the EU, attitudes to immigration have hardened, according to the latest NatCen Social Research British Social Attitudes survey.
Where does this leave UK hospitality? In recent years, we have already seen the shutting down of the Tier 1 (General) and Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa categories entirely, without any substitute measures put in place. The elimination of the Tier 1 (General) visa, which permitted highly skilled people to look for work in the UK, has greatly reduced the influx of skilled chefs, from more than 5,000 each year to fewer than 100. This is despite 'skilled chefs' being on the Home Office's list of jobs with not enough resident workers to fill available vacancies.
The demise of the Post Study Work visa has also been a blow for UK hospitality as it allowed businesses to hire a non-EU graduate (for up to two years) straight out of university without tackling a mound of paperwork. Now, on completing their degrees, non-EU hospitality management graduates will most likely go straight back to their own countries to start their careers.
Politicians want to ensure that Britons are not put out of work by foreign labour, but we are concerned that, because of the current level of anti-immigration rhetoric, the correct balance is not being struck.
In recent years, according to the Migration Advisory Committee, the overriding trend has been for migrants to take low-skilled positions, replacing British workers who have moved on to higher-skilled and better-paid work. Many newly arrived migrants are therefore doing vital jobs in areas such as agriculture and food manufacturing that are unattractive to most Britons.
We should be proud that we are providing talented people, whatever their origins, with exciting and rewarding career paths. From speaking to employees who have taken an Institute of Hospitality Management Diploma, we know that many who start in entry-level roles quickly move on to enjoy fulfilling career paths up into management. Excessively limiting or denying the rights of foreigners to work in Britain may create
serious difficulties, not just for our sector, but also for many areas of the economy.
After 7 May, the priority of the new government should be to do all it can to encourage the world's brightest and best to come to the UK, whilst supporting universities, schools and other education and training providers in a drive to address skills shortages and gaps in the domestic workforce in the longer term.