Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association; Pizza, Pasta & Italian Food Association; and Café Life Association on the fall in the number of EU migrants coming into the UK

The continued decline in EU workers coming to the UK highlights the increasingly critical shortage of workers in the UK food industry.

According to the latest migration statistics from the National Statistics Office, there was a decline of 35,000 in the number of EU citizens coming to the UK to work in the year to November 2017, and this is prior to any post-Brexit controls.

From restaurants and takeaways to manufacturing, many are already struggling to fill vacancies. We’ve been urging the g overnment to clarify the position on immigration and to not impose excessive restrictions or bureaucratic controls that could stifle the flow of EU workers the industry needs.

Our members understand the concerns over immigration that were highlighted during the Brexit referendum debates. They also believe the current control systems are out of date and too complicated, making it difficult for businesses to safely assess an employee’s right to work.

We believe Brexit provides an opportunity for updating systems and for the Home Office to work much more closely with businesses in developing a work/visa system that would be more robust than the current systems.

Many businesses report that they find the current visa system difficult to understand and time-consuming to work with if they need to bring in labour from outside the EU. They are concerned that if a similarly bureaucratic system is applied to EU citizens, it will deter many from coming and cause a paperwork nightmare for businesses.

The associations have proposed that government should introduce a work-based visa system linked to an employer which would tie migrant workers to a job and would expire if they left that employment. Employees coming in from outside the UK would be linked directly to the businesses employing them for a fixed period of, say, 12 or 24 months. This could make monitoring and control of immigration much simpler and more manageable. They would similarly be contractually bound to continue working with that business for the period, much like an apprenticeship approach. If they decided to leave early for any reason, their employer would notify the Home Office they were leaving, and any new employer would need to reapply for a new work visa.

We believe businesses would welcome this approach as it would encourage continuity of work and make it more economical to spend time and money training people.