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Chefs overtake software developers on UK skilled worker visas

Chefs overtake software developers on UK skilled worker visas


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Chefs have overtaken programmers as the most common occupation for immigrants arriving in the UK on skilled worker visas, according to a Financial Times analysis of official data reflecting wider changes in the use of recruitment pathways.

Some 6,203 chefs were granted skilled worker visas in the year to March 2024, a 54% increase on the previous year, according to figures released by the Home Office last week.

During the same period, the number of work permits granted to programmers and software developers fell by more than half, from 8,752 to 4,280.

The contrasting trends highlight the extent to which labor shortages persist in low-wage sectors even as hiring slows in the technology sector and other white-collar occupations.

Last week, the Office for National Statistics said immigration was close to record levels, at around 1.22 million in 2023, with work outpacing study as the main reason for people coming to the UK.

However, this follows a surge in visas being granted to carers and their relatives. Employers have been sponsoring fewer new hires in high-wage regions, which accounted for the lion's share of skilled worker visas.

The data shows a total of 67,703 skilled worker visas issued by the Home Office as of March 2024, a 2% decrease compared to the previous year.

In addition to the slowdown in the technology sector, which has also hit overseas recruitment of IT business analysts, the number of visas granted to management consultants in the first quarter of 2024 was 474, down 42% from the same period last year.

Visas issued for the financial and insurance sectors fell by 35%, and visas issued for professional, scientific and technical activities fell by 36%.

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The decline comes despite many employers planning to hire non-UK nationals rushing to fill out their applications over the past few months ahead of sharp increases in visa fees and the salaries they must pay to employees to qualify for a skilled worker visa.

Chefs are one of the low-paid occupations likely to be excluded from the future visa system because the minimum wage requirement has been increased to 38,700 (30,800 for younger workers).

The average annual salary for a chef in April 2023 was $22,877, according to the most recent ONS data.

The government's rule changes are part of a wider crackdown to make good on promises to reduce immigration, particularly by banning students and carers from bringing their families to the UK.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride last week launched a marketing campaign to persuade employers to fill vacancies with unemployed British workers. Business groups responded with skepticism, arguing that labor shortages were pushing individual companies to breaking point.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said chefs stand out as one of the few roles skilled enough to qualify for a visa in a sector where 6% of jobs remain unfilled despite vacancy rates having eased dramatically compared to post-Covid peaks. He said it was. 15 percent.

The increase in visa grants to chefs was driven by arrivals from South Asia, with 25% of visas issued to Indians, 22% to Bangladeshis and 21% to Pakistanis in the first three months of the year.

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Curry house owners have long lobbied the government for easier access to the visa system to overcome a chronic staffing crisis. In 2019, then-home secretary Priti Patel abandoned the so-called vindaloo visa requirement and lifted previous restrictions on restaurants offering takeaway.

But Nicholls said chefs recruited from South Asia would work across the industry, not just in curry houses, given the demand for their skills.

Due to ongoing labor shortages, the number of jobs in the food and service sector, such as butchers and restaurant managers, is increasing, attracting people entering the country on skilled worker visas.

Accommodation and food services accounted for 17% of skilled worker visas granted in the first quarter of 2024, well more than double the share from two years ago.




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