A recent survey of hospitality businesses by Fourth Hospitality found that 43 per cent of workers in the restaurant, hotel, pub and QSR sectors are foreign nationals, with restaurant kitchens employing the most non-British workers.
Wednesday's hints by Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill that a £1,000 levy (per employee) could be brought in this April for firms recruiting workers from outside the EU were met with serious concerns about costs and the ability to fill vacancies, despite Downing Street playing down the claims as being 'misinterpreted'.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: "The suggestion that the Government is considering imposing a £1,000-a-year levy on every European Union skilled worker recruited by British employers after Brexit is very worrying for the hospitality and tourism industry.
"The Government must work closely with businesses in industries such as ours, to develop sophisticated, sustainable proposals to help navigate Brexit. The Minister’s suggestion would increase the costs for hospitality and tourism businesses, in which four in five are SMEs and would lead to higher prices for consumers.”
Stuart Hanson, a senior caseworker at Immigration Law Solutions, regularly advises restaurateurs regarding overseas staff. He said the 'worrying suggestions' made by Goodwill gave a 'glimpse into the post-Brexit world where employers could be penalised for taking on staff who are from the European Union.'
He said: "As a company, we have had an unprecedented number of enquiries since the referendum from European nationals and employers worried about the future."
Hanson said one solution to avoid the fees would be for EU workers to apply for permanent residency, although applications would need to be quick.
"Our advice to European nationals is that if they are eligible to apply for Permanent Residency they should do it before the end of March 2017. The Home Office fees are £65 for an EEA (PR) application, so after yesterday’s comments it is a good investment for employers and employees alike.
"However, what we have noticed is that the Home Office are refusing applications if any supporting documents are missing, where previously they would have written to the applicant asking for them.
"The application process for EEA nationals has been described in the press as 'overcomplicated' and processing times for EEA applications from inside the UK are approximately 6 months; this means if you don’t submit the ‘perfect’ application now, it may be too late, as when you get your answer from the Home Office, Article 50 will have been triggered.
"Our advice is act now, but make sure your paperwork is in order, as there are no second chances.”
Last week Jamie's Italian chief executive Simon Blagden announced plans to close six restaurants due to difficult trading conditions following the Brexit vote and many hospitality employers have expressed concerns over the future of staffing when Britain leaves the EU.