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Should wine sommeliers be classified as skilled workers?

Wine sommeliers could be added to the skilled worker list for foreign nationals entering the UK for employment, following a recommendation to reclassify the role.

According to the Migration Advisory Committee — the independent body assessing how migrants can impact shortages in the UK labour market — sommeliers with more than three years full-time experience should be made eligible for skilled worker visas, and reclassified as a Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 3 role. This would put the role at a similar level to advanced apprenticeships or A Levels.

But despite the news, the shortage occupation list (SOL), which allows firms to recruit from abroad to fill roles in the UK, is currently the only mechanism which the hospitality trade can access.

In its latest assessment earlier this month, the MAC did not add any hospitality roles, such as chefs, bar staff or sommeliers, to the list. However the MAC, which was making its first review since 2020, added it believed the SOL wasn’t fit for purpose, and should be radically reformed.

The desire for somms to be included in the skilled worker list comes after evidence that around 500 to 600 vacancies for the role currently exist in the UK.

Charlotte Wills, a partner at immigration services firm Fragomen, told db: “Sommeliers had previously not been considered for the UK’s skilled visa route and while the MAC has suggested a restriction on those will less than three years’ experience, the inclusion now recognises the skilled nature of the job. It now provides a pathway to utilise the skilled worker route for a role recognised to be in shortage.

“However, there will be disappointment that the SOL has not been expanded as so many business groups had called for, with many industry sectors facing a critical shortage of staff following post-Brexit restrictions on the movement of EU workers.

“We do not yet know how the Government will respond to the MAC’s recommendations, although historically it tends to accept them.”

Speaking about the new, Federica Zanghirella, vice-president of the UK Sommelier Association, told The Times that Brexit and the pandemic were the two main reasons restaurants and bars were struggling to hire sommeliers.

She said: “After Britain left the European Union, people went back to their homes in Europe, found jobs there and didn’t come back. If they did stay here then it has been long enough that they are now floor managers or restaurant managers and they are not doing the sommelier job any more. We don’t have anyone coming in at the junior level.”

The Times also spoke to Vincenzo Arnese, the director of wine at the Raffles, and who last year was Taittinger’s UK sommelier of the year. He said that is colleagues were “struggling”.

He said: “It’s not an easy task to find a whole team of sommeliers. In a restaurant you need a person to help you and bring you to wines that you wouldn’t otherwise try.”

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