The creator of a petition calling for a new hospitality visa scheme has said the current system is unfair to smaller businesses who may be unable to pay higher salaries.
Thiago Luz Togni, general manager at Temper Shoreditch in London, launched an online petition last week calling for the creation of a scheme to allow EU nationals to work in UK hospitality for up to two years.
He said this should be accessible to all businesses, not just the "big companies who can get sponsorship visas".
Having worked both in the UK and abroad during his career, Togni said that countries such as Singapore had a very "straightforward" visa scheme that can deliver a visa "within two weeks".
In contrast, he said the UK had a much more "complicated" process with several requirements which slowed things down. Under the skilled worker visa candidates are required to earn a minimum of £25,600 per year or the typical ‘going rate' for their type of work.
Togni said that "not every company can afford" to pay above the salary threshold.
A recent report from Caterer.com found that immigration policies are discouraging 89% of hospitality operators from hiring overseas, with 34% attributing the reluctance to associated visa costs. Some 200,000 international workers have left the sector since 2019, the study found.
Togni felt the urgency of the problem when trying to recruit a team for open fire barbecue restaurant, Temper, in London's Shoreditch, which is due to open in late September.
He said: "I realised how difficult it was to recruit people. I was working abroad [in Saudi Arabia] for the past few months and I just came back to the UK, and I didn't know it was that bad.
"On one of the days, we did an invitation via Indeed and 90 people replied that they would come in [for a job interview]. Then ten people show up and out of the ten people, maybe two were good. It's completely different to pre-Covid."
He said that he was unable to recruit any foreign workers because he was limited to whoever "is in the market right now" and "we don't have anyone coming with these visas".
However, Togni is hopeful that change will come: "I know the Home Office can do something. They [created] the Ukrainian [visa] scheme really fast, so I reckon they can do exactly the same [for hospitality]."
He added: "It's just a matter of sharing and making everyone aware. It would be nice to have a backing of an MP as well, which I'm trying to get but because it's a really sensitive issue because of Brexit, it's going to be really hard.
"I'm trying to [stay] as apolitical as possible…at the end of the day, I need to get the government to listen and if it becomes too political, it might be shut down."
The petition currently has over 14,000 signatures since it was launched less than a week ago. Togni has six months to raise this figure to 100,000, at which point it would be debated in parliament.
He said: "I said to my colleagues, if you put me in front of the MP, I can convince them. On a one-to-one, I can do it. Let's keep trying and see where it goes."
View the petition here.
Image: Nick Starichenko / Shutterstock
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