No more businesses to be given special visa schemes, Government sources say

·3-min read
Vehicles queue for fuel at a petrol station in west London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Vehicles queue for fuel at a petrol station in west London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

The UK will not introduce visa relaxation schemes for any other sectors facing staff shortages despite easing rules for HGV drivers, it has been reported.

Ministers set up temporary visa schemes for HGV drivers and poultry workers to limit disruption in the run-up to Christmas.

The fuel crisis has been partially attributed to a lack of HGV drivers. It was also a reason for the visa measures.

Staff shortages in areas including hospitality and care have led to calls for a similar relaxation of post-Brexit immigration rules for other sectors.

But government sources told the BBC that firms should improve pay and conditions and that no more visa schemes would be introduced.

However, Kate Nicholls from UK Hospitality warned that without measures such as temporary visas the recovery from the pandemic would “falter”.

She said the sector was helping people into apprenticeships, offering training schemes and noted that wages had risen by 19% over the last five years.

However she said a “chronic shortage of staff is a significant barrier to the hospitality industry’s recovery”, and urged the government to consider “all reasonable measures”.

The Home Office and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are not discussing the possibility of visas for other sectors, according to the BBC.

A government source told the broadcaster: “In order to move to a high-wage, high-skilled economy, businesses should invest in their workforce and improve pay and conditions.”

Ms Nicholls is a member of the government’s new hospitality council which met on Wednesday.

It assembles industry experts to help pubs, cafes and restaurants recover from the pandemic.

Ministers had been telling businesses to move away from relying on cheaper labour to a high-skill, high-wage economy.

On Tuesday a letter from more than 65 hospitality leaders to the prime minister demanded that immigration requirements for hospitality workers be urgently relaxed.

Following the letter chief executive of retailers Next Lord Wolfson said: “Without some relaxation of immigration rules, we are likely to experience some degradation in our service in the run up to Christmas.”

Meanwhile some food chains like Itsu and Prezzo have been already offering pay rises and other incentives to try attract more workers.

Hospitality industry representatives have estimated that one in five workers had left the sector during the coronavirus pandemic, with Covid and Brexit fuelling the problem.

A government spokesperson said they were “closely monitoring labour supply” but “the government encourages all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options wage increases and investment.”

Last week, government introduced visas for HGV drivers, when a lack of staff led to delays in getting fuel to petrol stations.

However, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, Andrew Opie, has warned that the 5,000 new visas created by the government for HGV drivers would “barely scratch the surface on alleviating the problem”.

He asked the government to “rapidly extend its visa scheme” adding “without action, millions of households over the country will be disappointed this Christmas”.

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