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Visa changes threaten to price out overseas sommeliers

Published:  10 April, 2024

The new minimum salary threshold for hospitality workers has now come into force, meaning that overseas waiters and sommeliers have to earn at least £38,700 in order to qualify for a UK visa.

Yesterday (9 April) marked the official introduction of the changes, which significantly increase the UK salary eligibility for foreign workers from £26,000 to £38,700.

In October, it was announced that sommeliers would be included in the shortage occupation list put together by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), meaning they are greenlit to work in the UK.

However, they now have to meet the increased salary threshold, which has jumped by over £12,000. Glassdoor currently puts the average base salary for a London-based sommelier between £23,000 and £32,000, meaning that many will find themselves priced out of the UK job market.

“The UK’s hospitality sector continues to face significant staff shortages,” Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told Harpers.

“The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that 44% of hospitality businesses are still experiencing staff shortages. The government’s recent decision to increase the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers means that virtually all hospitality businesses will struggle to recruit international talent.”

The changes to the visa scheme were announced last year by home secretary James Cleverly as part of a five-point plan to curb net migration, which he said was “far too high”.

Billed as a Brexit benefit, the changes have been heavily criticised by campaigners in the hospitality sector which relies on foreign workers to fill 15% of its jobs.

According to recent research, more than 90% of the 8,500 migrants recruited in the hospitality sector last year would not qualify under the new £38,700 threshold.

The changes are likely to be felt across the sector, which currently still has 109,000 vacancies – far above pre-pandemic levels (ONS).

“It’s crucial that the government does more to support the sector by facilitating Youth Mobility Scheme agreements with appropriate countries to help alleviate this pressure for businesses across the UK,” Nicholls concluded.