Since the EU referendum a number of questions have been raised over what rights EEA citizens already living in the UK will have once the UK exits the European Union. Many of these questions relate to the options available to UK businesses that rely on EEA migrants to fill their job vacancies.
Currently, under the Free Movement of People provisions, EEA citizens have an automatic right to reside and work in the UK protected under EU law. This has resulted in an estimated 2.1 million EU citizens migrating to the UK for employment, many of whom fill roles in the hospitality sector.
The British Hospitality Association estimates that more than 700,000 people working in the hospitality and tourism industries in the UK are EU nationals. Additionally, hospitality recruiter The Change Group has commented that only a third of applicants for hospitality jobs are from UK citizens.
This raises concerns over how the UK’s hospitality and tourism industries can remain competitive in the global market when there aren’t sufficient staff to fill the vacancies.
Home secretary Amber Rudd has suggested the introduction of a ‘barista visa’ that will allow EU citizens to come to the UK for two years in order to work in the hospitality, retail or other related industries.
The idea behind this appears to come from the similar Youth Mobility visa scheme, which allows 18- to 30-year-olds from eight participating non-EEA countries to come to the UK for up to two years to work for any UK employer. The obvious downside is that at the end of the two-year period the visa holder will be required to leave the UK regardless of their circumstances, unless they manage to qualify under a separate visa route.
The proposed ‘barista visa’ would be more restrictive than the Youth Mobility visa. It would be designed for migrants to fill lower skilled roles, but with the inherent risk that – should a migrant holding this visa be promoted into a management position during this time in the UK – they may find themselves no longer able to remain under the terms of their visa.
The benefit of the suggested visa, however, is that it may still encourage young people to come to the UK to fill vacancies the British workforce appears to have no interest in applying for.
Whether this will ultimately be a sufficiently attractive visa scheme is a separate matter. Without being able to reside in the UK on a long-term basis, or gain permanent residence or citizenship in the UK, many EEA citizens are likely to be attracted to countries where they hold these rights.
Furthermore, by restricting job opportunities to sectors such as hospitality the UK risks alienating skilled migrants. For now these people can come and work here as a legal right. However, they would be forced to apply under the current work visa schemes in place.
Overall the ‘barista visa’ is unlikely to solve the problems that will face the UK labour market in the hospitality and tourism sectors. With more than half of job applicants being EU nationals this number is only going to fall over the next few years. Most likely this will result in businesses being understaffed and the service they can provide falling.
David Starr is a solicitor in the immigration team at SA Law