Yesterday morning there was a meeting between the Migration Advisory Committee, the Home Office-sponsored public body that advises the government on migration issues, and the travel industry. ETOA, the European tourism association will present evidence that Brexit, unless carefully handled, will damage productivity. ETOA is asking for assurances that hiring non-UK EU workers remains free from bureaucratic burdens.
ETOA conducted a survey of all the major inbound tour operators and their suppliers, to establish the impact of any restriction on the employment of non-UK EU nationals among those based in the UK.
Over 100 companies, collectively employing more than 35,000 people completed the questionnaire. One third of their employees would be classified as “non-UK EU nationals”. 80% of the companies said it would be “difficult to impossible” to replace these workers with UK nationals.
As nearly all jobs are currently filled by EU nationals, it is hardly surprising that only 16% of the companies have used the “Tier 2 visa mechanism” which is required to recruit workers from outside the EU. Of those that have, 85% found the process “difficult to impossible”. If this system were to be extended to EU workers, (a possible option post-Brexit), then nearly 80% of companies predicted a substantial detrimental impact on productivity.
Language skills are particularly important if you are buying from or selling to people in Continental Europe. ETOA members, broadly, need to recruit poly-lingual graduates who are happy to work in the UK. They may only represent 30% of their workforce, but the jobs of the remaining 70% are dependent on them.
Not only are the skills of non-UK EU workers difficult to obtain within the UK, but these workers have proved that they are willing to travel long distances to work, and they are prepared to adapt. This manifest motivation and flexibility mean that non-UK EU nationals make up the most productive part of the workforce. It is hardly surprising that any curtailment of the supply of these people will be detrimental, particularly to productivity.
“It is particularly unhelpful," said Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA, "that the definition of “skills”, for the purposes of immigration, does not include languages. The strongest part of our economy is services: inbound tourism is a vital export. You must deliver excellence in the language of the customer if overseas money is to be spent in the UK. Foreign workers are a vital component in our product and our productivity.”
Ahead of today’s meeting, the Tourism Alliance, which is the established voice of the UK tourism industry, submitted a paper proposing that the Government develop a Tourism Employment Strategy to tackle a current shortage of workers with the skills required by the sector. The Strategy proposes initiatives to encourage UK nationals to pursue careers in tourism and intelligent reforms to various existing UK immigration rules that would facilitate the employment of EU workers post Brexit.
The principal initiatives of the strategy include:
- Immediate clarification on the status of EU nationals
- Reviewing the TIER 2 Skilled Worker Criteria to pay less attention to salary (which is not a skill) and more attention to language ability (which is a skill)
- Introducing a quota scheme through TIER 3
- Expanding the TIER 5 Youth Mobility Scheme to EU nationals
- Revising the rules for students under TIER 4 to enable more of them to work
- Establishing a national ten-year campaign to attract and retain a significantly higher number of UK workers
Tom Jenkins concluded: “People are the most important asset of any organisation. We must not reduce the available talent pool from 500 million to 60 million, particularly when non-UK EU workers have skills that cannot be replicated domestically. Introducing TIER 2 controls on these people will involve a huge increase in expense and bureaucracy. Post Brexit, we need the government to implement a new tourism employment strategy that will enable the industry to hire non-UK EU nationals almost as easily as it can at present. That strategy, to prevent an increase in red tape, has already been drawn up by the industry. It is on the table. We need the government to adopt it.”