Theresa May has scrapped the £65 fee for EU migrants looking to remain in the UK after Brexit, following pressure from hospitality leaders.
The fee was part of the registration process for EU migrants who wished to stay in the UK after Brexit, and amounted to £65 for adults and £32.50 for those under the age of 16.
It prompted many firms, such as Carluccio's, Brasserie Blanc and Oakman Inns, to offer to cover the cost for their staff, while groups including UKHospitality spoke out against the policy.
Acknowledging "the anxiety facing EU citizens in the UK", May told the House of Commons this afternoon "the government will waive the application fee so there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay - and anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have this fee reimbursed."
Peter Borg-Neal, CEO of Oakman Inns, told The Caterer: "I am, obviously, absolutely delighted with the news that Theresa May has announced that the settled status fee has been scrapped.
"To give credit where it is due the government has listened to the representations from the hospitality industry and from others such as British expat campaigners] the 3Million group.
Alongside other sectors and campaign bodies, high profile figures in hospitality pushed against the fee in the media - with Borg-Neal appearing on BBC Radio 4 and Raymond Blanc featuring on the BBC One's Breakfast programme.
Blanc, of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and Brasserie Blanc, told The Caterer: "Obviously every employer and employee is happy not to have to pay the £65 fee. That is good news and shows intent to understand that Europe plays an extraordinarily important role in delivering superb service and skills to fill roles that often British people do not want to do. Of the more than two million people working in this industry half a million are Europeans and the country needs them, simple as that. But, while we're very happy about this decision, it's not over, you still have to apply and there's not going to be free movement."
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "Scrapping the fee for settled status is a welcome and positive government decision, providing peace of mind for many EU citizens working in the UK's hospitality sector planning for their futures. It will save the hospitality sector, workers and their families an estimated £20 million and is a gesture that rightly highlights the hugely valuable contribution EU workers make to the UK economy, particularly in hospitality. It is encouraging that the government has heard our concerns.
"Now we need the government to outline its course of action, to find a solution that minimises disruption to businesses, which need a better idea of what lies ahead. Parliament needs to settle on a decision, preferably avoiding a no deal Brexit, and give UK businesses a chance to prepare for the future."
Jeremy Goring, chief executive of The Goring hotel in London's Belgravia told The Caterer he had written to the prime minister about the situation faced by the industry. He explained: "It would be madness to put yet more barriers in front of some of the best potential employees in the industry. These are people who, despite being deemed 'unskilled', are among the best teachers of hospitality skills we have. We should be welcoming them with open arms, guaranteed rights in perpetuity, and no questions asked. Unless we want to go back to the '1970s. As hospitality professionals we are always polite with our government ministers on this type of issue - perhaps we should make some more noise before it's too late."
The announcement comes after a pilot of the settled status scheme opened for applications today. The process will formally launch on 30 May and be open to EU migrants up to 30 June 2021 - or 31 December 2020 if Britain leaves the EU without a Brexit deal.
Concerns over the state of staffing in the sector were raised last week when Red Carnation hotels' managing director Jonathan Raggett told a Tourism Society conference he believed staff were leaving the UK due to the weakening pound and strengthening EU economies, as well as a feeling they were unwelcome following the Brexit vote.
He added: "In the last year we have seen the number of applications coming in fall to almost next to nothing and to create the perfect storm we have also had more than 60 of our outstanding European employees return to their home countries."