The hospitality sector will recover from the impact of the pandemic and when it does it will be faced with the age old problem of how to recruit the right people into the right roles. Operators are now faced with Brexit and the new immigration system. What should you be doing to get ready?

We have previously considered how operators can meet their staffing needs in lower skilled roles here. What about skilled recruitment? The sector will benefit under the new immigration system but at what cost?

Why is the immigration system changing?

Free movement for EEA nationals will end on 31 December 2020. Until this date, European nationals have been able to move to the UK to work without needing a visa. Many sectors, including the hospitality sector have benefitted from a skilled and lower skilled, on demand workforce from Europe. European nationals already in the UK pre-Brexit will be able to stay and will be able to continue working in any role at any skill and salary level.

After this date, all newly arrived Europeans will need a visa to work, as do nationals from the rest of the world.

When are the new rules coming in?

The immigration system is changing to accommodate European nationals and to simplify some key elements of the current system. These new rules will apply from 1 December 2020 for non-EU nationals and from 1 January 2021 for EU nationals arriving in UK for first time.

What does this mean for my business?

For most employers, this visa system will be the only option for recruiting from overseas into skilled roles. There is very little provision for recruiting from overseas into lower skilled roles. If a business does anticipate recruiting under the immigration system they should secure an immigration licence now.

What roles can I recruit into from overseas?

The old immigration system only allowed recruitment at graduate level. The new system reduces the required skill level to RQF 3 (A-level). The Home Office decides the level at which an occupation is set. This does not mean that a person must hold A-levels, only that the role they are planning to fill is set by the Home Office at this level.

The drinks and hospitality sector will, for the first time, be able to benefit from the immigration system to recruit overseas nationals into roles such as restaurant managers, catering managers, banqueting manager, chefs, café owners, hotel managers, food and beverage managers and publicans. These roles were not available for sponsorship under the old system but they are under the new system. Lower skilled roles such as waiting and bar staff will not be available for sponsorship.

Shortage Occupations

Some roles will still be defined as being in shortage occupations. Roles which are defined as shortage occupations do not need to meet the minimum £25,600 salary threshold or the going rate for their occupation, they only need to meet a salary of £20,480 or 80% of the going rate for their occupation. It is more affordable to employ individuals in shortage occupations, although the overall cost of sponsorship is still significant.

Experienced chefs are on the current shortage occupation list although The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) who advise the government on amendments to the Shortage Occupation list have recommended that chefs are taken off the list. The Government has declined to consider these recommendations yet preferring to postpone until it is able to assess how the UK labour market develops post-Covid and in response to the introduction of the new Immigration System. If a business is minded to recruit experienced chefs it would be wise to do this while they are still on the shortage occupation list.

What do I need to do if I want to sponsor an overseas worker?

The key characteristics of new immigration system for the sponsorship of a skilled worker are the same – an employer must be licenced by the Home Office, there must be a genuine vacancy, an applicant must be sponsored to do a specific job and the job must meet a skill and salary threshold.

The first step in sponsorship will be for the employer to secure an immigration licence. These are valid for four years and can be used to sponsor as many overseas nationals as you have skilled vacancies to fill.

How much is all this going to cost?

Home Office fees are subject to frequent change but to give an idea at this stage, you would need to budget for £536 to £1476 to secure the licence. This fee is payable once every four years.

Each time you sponsor a migrant you must pay the Immigration Skills Charge which is £364 per year of the visa for a small company and £1000 per year of the visa for a large company. Overseas nationals are typically sponsored for a period of 5 years in total but this is often split into an initial 3 year period followed by a 2 year extension.

There would also be the Home Office or Embassy fees of £600 – £700 and the Immigration Health Surcharge of £624 per year of the visa. There are additional biometric enrolment and appointment fees which vary from time to time and location but which may add another £200 to the cost. These fees can be covered by the employer or the employee.


The new system will make more roles available for sponsorship and will remove many of the unnecessary restrictions on overseas recruitment. It is however, no substitute for free movement and significant concerns remain for employers in the drinks and hospitality sector, particularly around the cost to them of recruiting from overseas.

Employers who anticipate recruiting from overseas, including Europe, in the future, are being encouraged by the Home Office to secure their immigration licence in readiness for the changes.

Employers will need to factor in the high cost of sponsorship and adapt to a system which requires specialist knowledge to maintain a licence and to sponsor each role. As with much of the post-Brexit landscape, the impact on the UK labour market and on UK hospitality sector’s ability to sustain operations and to grow in the coming years remains uncertain.

To find out more of for help with securing an immigration licence 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.