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Chris Harber03

Chris Harber


As part of the UK’s departure from the EU, the government made significant changes to the immigration system, which has had an impact on the ability of UK restaurants and hotels to recruitment chefs from overseas. As with all other roles, since 1 January 2021 EU nationals can no longer travel to the UK under freedom of movement; any EU nationals not already in the UK by 31 December 2020 will now need to be sponsored, just like any other non-EU national.

Immigration  hiring a chef

On the plus side, where previously only ‘highly skilled chefs’ earning at least £30,000 could be sponsored, the introduction of the new Skilled Worker category means UK businesses can now sponsor any type of chef. The minimum pay rate has also been significantly reduced, meaning sponsorship of chefs is now a realistic option for many more businesses than it has been in the past.

Key changes since Brexit

Under the immigration rules in place prior to the UK’s departure from the EU, businesses could only sponsor a chef if the role met the strict definition of a ‘skilled chef’. Simply put this meant a head chef, executive chef or a similar senior role, and the individual needed to have five years’ prior experience at that level and would need to be paid at least £30,000 for their role in the UK. Other types of lower skilled chefs were simply prevented from being sponsored, as chefs were not considered to be a high enough skill level.

Since 1 December 2020 the rules around sponsorship have now changed changed. As a result of the introduction of the new Skilled Worker category the minimum salary level has been reduced and the minimum skill level at which migrant workers can be sponsored has dropped to RQF Level 3, which now means that all chefs are eligible for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker category. It’s worth highlighting at this stage that the guidance specifically rules out ‘cooks’ from being sponsored. In addition, previous restrictions on ‘fast food’ or ‘standard fare’ outlets sponsoring chefs have also been lifted.

Do I need a Sponsor Licence?

As alluded to above, one aspect which hasn’t changed is that employers must hold a Sponsor Licence before being able to offer sponsorship to migrant workers who don’t hold a visa in another category such as the EU Settlement Scheme or as the dependant of a migrant worker. 

There is a lot to consider before applying for a licence. You will need to ensure you are able to comply with your sponsor licence duties - restaurants are a high priority of the Home Office, in terms of inspection. Therefore, you would be well advised to prepare for an inspection before the Home Office will grant a licence. 

The cost of a sponsor licence is £536 for a small business or £1,476 for a medium/large business. You will need to pay £199 for a certificate of sponsorship, to sponsor one individual. If you are recruiting from overseas you will need to pay something called the Immigration Skills Charge. This is £364 per year per sponsored individual, for a small business, or £1,000 for a medium/large business. 

How much do I have to pay my chef?

Normally, you will need to pay your chef at least £25,600 based on a 39 hour working week, however with the Skilled Worker category there are options to pay less than this depending on the migrant worker’s personal circumstances. 

If the migrant worker is classed as a ‘new entrant’, then you can pay considerably less – just £20,480. New entrants include individuals under the age of 26, as well as ‘recent graduates’ from UK universities, meaning the individual was most recently granted a Tier 4/Student visa, which expired not less than two years before they apply for their skilled worker visa. They must have completed a degree at bachelor’s level or above. If you are going to rely on the new entrant rate it’s important to highlight that you can only rely on this rate for 4 years, after this the Home Office will expect the migrant worker’s salary to have increased to at least £25,600.

Do I need to advertise the role first?

Simply put, there is no requirement for employers to advertise the role in the UK before offering the role to a migrant worker. However, the Home Office still requires employers to retain evidence of any recruitment activity that you have undertaken. If you did not advertise the role, you must be able to explain how you recruited the migrant worker. For example, if the migrant worker made a speculative application, was referred to you or worked for you previously these could all be reasonable reasons why you did not advertise the role.

How can we help?

The Immigration Team at Boyes Turner have significant experience across the Leisure and Hospitality sector, and have helped numerous hotels and restaurants obtain Sponsor Licences and manage their immigration programmes. 
As part of our service offering we can:

  • Assist you with the preparation and submission of a sponsor licence application
  • Manage your Sponsor Licence once it has been approved, including preparing and assigning certificates of sponsorship on your behalf
  • Couduct audits to make sure you are compliant with your duties as a sponsor licence holder
  • Full end to end management of visa applications
  • Advise on Brexit preparedness and the EU Settlement Scheme
  • Advise on Right to Work checks, including running training sessions for your staff

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.


Get in touch

If you are a restaurant or hotel owner or manager and want to sponsor a chef, or have any other immigration matter you would like help with, please contact Chris Harber, our head of immigration on [email protected]

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