Hospitality operators face a worsening skills crisis as eastern European workers start returning home, a recruitment expert has warned.
Many Poles, Czechs and Slovaks see a stint working in the UK as a three-year project and will soon be leaving the country, according to Niall Keyes, managing director of Grafton Recruitment. He warned that the hospitality sector must no longer rely on eastern European migrants to fill positions, as levels will soon start falling.
The Government estimates that 120,000 eastern Europeans have entered the UK to work in hospitality since EU expansion in 2004, with more than a quarter (27%) working in London.
But Keyes, who heads Grafton's central and eastern European division, insisted the number of former Communist Bloc workers in the capital will soon fall as the first big wave starts to return home.
"We used to talk about the brain drain and how it would be a disaster in the Czech Republic, but living abroad is only a two- to three-year project for most people," he said.
"I think we'll see a reduction in the number of eastern Europeans in London. A significant number go home after two or three years. We are already interviewing people who have come back."
However, Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, cast doubt on the fears, citing recent Government findings that more eastern Europeans were settling in the UK, sparking subsequent fears about pressure on housing and education.
"Originally we thought it would be students coming over for a year and it would be a temporary phenomenon, but it now seems that older people are coming over with their families to settle here, so I don't foresee a major problem in the near future," he said.
By Daniel Thomas