At Latitude we assist a mix of employers with corporate immigration matters; this includes civil penalties and illegal working, and sponsorship of vital migrant workers who fill skills gaps. Of all the roles we discuss with potential new sponsors, one of the most common queries is how a restaurant or food business can hire and sponsor a chef.
There is currently a lot of public discussion about the importance of migrant workers and whether there are certain industries or roles which should be prioritised for sponsorship in a post-Brexit world. One of the industries set to miss out under the recommendations published last week by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is the food service industry. This is because the MAC recommends that ‘low skilled’ labour should not be given special consideration and should be subordinate to high skilled migration, and the government considers chefs (and other associated food service roles) to be ‘low skilled’.
‘Low skilled’ or even ‘unskilled’ labour are somewhat ugly and offensive terms. All too often, our experience with clients is that ‘low skilled’ jobs require a great amount of experience and expertise. Chefs are a perfect example of this.
Despite a somewhat poor international reputation for cuisines, the UK loves food. Our TV schedule is dominated by shows like Bake Off and MasterChef, and there were estimated to be more than 83,500 businesses operating in the restaurant and mobile food service industry in 2016. Here in Manchester, there is a strong reputation for quality international or ‘themed’ cuisine, and often that comes with a need for chefs who know traditional methods or can use traditional equipment. Such skills can be hard to find within the resident labour market.
So what to do when you need a master chef and your only option is a migrant worker? If that migrant employee is from outside the EU and has no other permission to live and work in the UK, they will require your sponsorship. Sponsorship of migrant workers is however restricted:
- Only applicants with a certain skill level may apply;
- They must be paid acceptable salary levels, which are way above minimum or living wage; and
- The number of new workers permitted to enter the UK is controlled to just a couple of thousand a month, and your application must pass through a monthly ballot system.
Chefs are able to meet these requirements only where:
- the pay is at least £29,570 per year after deductions for accommodation, meals etc; and
- the job requires five or more years relevant experience in a role of at least equivalent status to the one they are entering; and
- the job is not in either a fast food outlet, a standard fare outlet, or an establishment which provides a take-away service; and
- The job is in one of the following roles:
- executive chef – limited to one per establishment
- head chef – limited to one per establishment
- sous chef – limited to one for every four kitchen staff per establishment
- specialist chef – limited to one per speciality per establishment
The salary level is relatively low in terms of sponsorship, but is high for many employers, particularly those operating a regional business as opposed to one in central London. The limitations on a take-away service are also restrictive; this means that a business cannot utilise new client bases opening up through Deliveroo or Uber Eats, inhibiting trade and profit.
For now, there is at least still some possibility for a chef to be sponsored, but there is no way of knowing for how much longer that will continue. The description of chefs above features on the shortage occupation list of jobs which are always difficult to fill in the UK, but outside inclusion on that list, a chef is considered to be someone low skilled and unsuitable for sponsorship. This should signal a warning following the government’s announcement today that it intends to adopt the MAC’s recommendations and give no priority to EU nationals’ employment post-Brexit, or to sponsored employment in ‘low skilled’ industries. Ultimately, without inclusion on the shortage occupation list, the end of EU free movement also signals the end of employment of migrant workers in those industries.