COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact on the Scottish tourism sector over the last year, but as we approach the summer months and the future easing of restrictions, many businesses are now looking to the future and re-opening.

As part of their preparations, businesses will be considering their staffing needs, as well as the impact of Brexit and the end of freedom of movement on their ability to fill jobs over the coming months. Historically, large numbers of vacancies within the tourism sector have been filled by EU nationals; in 2017 an estimated 207,000 EEA citizens were employed in the Scottish tourism sector, with around a fifth employed in rural areas.

With that in mind, here are some of the immigration routes that employers looking to recruit migrant workers might want to consider.

The EU Settlement Scheme

EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK before 1 January 2021 and who successfully apply under the scheme should be able to stay and work in the tourism sector without another form of visa. In some cases, even seasonal workers who may have spent time overseas, but who work in Scotland for part of the year may be eligible.

Notably, EEA and Swiss citizens coming to the UK from 1 January 2021 will need a visa or work permit to work in the UK.

The scheme is only open until the 30 June 2021 in most cases, so employers may want to speak with eligible employees to ensure they are aware of the deadlines and the implications on their ability to live and work in the UK going forward, if they do not apply in time.

Frontier worker permits

The new frontier worker permit scheme opened on 10 December 2020 and those who are eligible may not require a visa.

Generally speaking, a frontier worker is an EEA or Swiss citizen, who regularly travels to work or for self-employment in the UK, but whose primary residence is outside the UK. There are precise eligibility criteria to be met, but this permit may be of particular interest to employers in the tourism sector who rely on seasonal workers from Europe.

Key advantages of this permit are:

  • it is free and there is no need to pay the immigration health surcharge;
  • as long as the individual retains their frontier worker status, permits can also be renewed indefinitely;
  • there is no restriction on the type of work that an individual can carry out while in the UK, so it's suitable for low as well as highly skilled jobs.

Employers should consider whether the permit would be applicable to any EEA or Swiss employees they are looking to employ in the coming months – many individuals are not aware that they could qualify. Those entering the UK after 1 July 2021 for work will need to have the permit in place if they qualify, so they should not delay in applying. This visa may be suitable for certain seasonal workers who have come to the UK regularly to work.

UK points-based immigration system: Skilled worker route

EEA and Swiss nationals coming to work in the UK for the first time from the 1 January 2021 will require a visa to do so, if they do not have the right to work under the EU Settlement Scheme or as a frontier worker.

Any employers who intend to recruit medium (or highly skilled) migrants from the EU or elsewhere will require a Skilled Worker/Intra Company Transfer Sponsor Licence. Examples of jobs that are suitable for sponsorship include hotel and accommodation managers, restaurant managers, tourist information managers and others. Therefore, employers may want to consider getting their sponsor licence in place now, so they can sponsor EU and other migrant workers going forward.

The Skilled Worker route (formerly Tier 2) changed significantly from 1 December 2020 and the process of sponsoring migrant workers under the route is now faster, more certain and streamlined. The Resident Labour Market Test has been removed, which could cut almost a month off the sponsorship process in some cases as there will be no need for employers to advertise the position they want to fill for a 28-day period. The Immigration cap has also been removed.

While the simplification of the route is good news, not every role will be eligible for sponsorship, in particular lower skilled jobs cannot be sponsored. There are also a number of other mandatory requirements to be met in relation to minimum salary thresholds, English language requirements and also maintenance/financial requirements.

Under the Skilled Worker route there are also costs to consider including visa fees, the Immigration Skills charge, and the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Additional options to consider

Employers in the tourism sector may also want to consider options such the new Graduate Route visa, which opens on 1 July 2021 and will allow international students to stay and work in any job, for any employer, for two or in some cases three years after their studies finish. The employer will not need to sponsor the individual and they can take up low skilled jobs as well as highly skilled ones. The Youth Mobility Route is also another option.

Key take-aways for employers

While the end of freedom of movement is likely to impact some employers' ability to fill certain jobs within the tourism sector, there are lots of visa routes to consider. It is important now, more than ever for the sector to be aware of the visa options available.

If you have any questions about any of the options discussed, get in touch with Elaine McIlroy, Erin McLafferty or your usual Brodies contact.


Erin McLafferty