For many years now the hospitality and leisure sectors have relied heavily on workers from outside the UK.  High staff turnover, Brexit and the future new immigration system are ongoing concerns for operators.

Will I be able to recruit bar and waiting staff under the immigration system?

When the future immigration system was first proposed in December 2018 there was provision for overseas nationals to come to the UK on a short term basis to fill lower skilled roles. These proposals have not made it to the final cut. The new Immigration Rules, which will come into effect from next month do not provide a direct route for employers to recruit overseas nationals, including European nationals, into roles which are considered to be lower skilled.

How can I recruit the staff I need?

When the sector bounces back from Covid-19 it will face the ongoing challenge of staff recruitment. Traditionally there have been a staff shortages in the sector and these have been met, to some extent, with European nationals who have been able to work in the UK without a visa, under free movement. Free movement will end on 1 January 2021.

What happens when free movement ends?

The Home Office anticipates that employers will look to the British population to fill roles and to existing European residents. It is understood there are 3.3 million European nationals living in the UK. European nationals who are living in the UK before 31 December 2020 will be able to secure permission to continue to live in the UK. This gives them permission to work in any role, at any skill and salary level for any employer.

European nationals arriving on or after 1 January 2021 will not be able to secure this type of permission. They would need a visa under the Immigration Rules. The main work visa route will NOT be available for lower skilled roles. Find out more about the Skilled Work visa route here

Can I employ a European or overseas national?

You can employ a European national or overseas national if they have already have a visa which gives them unrestricted permission to work, so for example a European national who arrived pre-Brexit or an overseas national with permission to work such as a dependant of a visa holder.

What other options are there?

We have long had a Youth Mobility Scheme under our immigration system. This has been expanded but not to the extent that had been hoped for. The Youth Mobility Scheme allows people aged between 18 – 30 years old to secure a 2 year visa which gives them permission to work in any role.

An employer does not need to engage with the immigration system, save to check the person’s right to work. The employee does not need to be sponsored by the employer. They are sponsored by their country of residence. Places on the scheme are limited, the following numbers of visas are issued each year:

Australia – 30,000 places

New Zealand – 13,000 places

Canada – 5,000 places

Japan – 1,000 places

Monaco – 1,000 places

Taiwan – 1,000 places

Hong Kong – 1,000 places

Republic of Korea – 1,000 places

San Marino – 1,000 places

In addition to the Youth Mobility Scheme, the Government has announced a new International Graduate Scheme. This will give international students the right to stay in the UK for 2 or 3 years at the end of the studies. They will be able to work in any role at any skill or salary level. They will not need to be sponsored by an employer.


There is only very limited provision under the immigration system for recruitment into lower skilled roles. The provision there is does not require an immigration licence, sponsorship and should not require the employer to incur any additional cost. Where an employer needs to fill a mid skill level role, such as a restaurant manager or chef post, they will need to engage with the immigration system and will need a good understanding of the process and costs involved.

For further details or assistance please contact Emma Brooksbank




The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.