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30 May 2024

Programmers Overtaken by Chefs as Top Occupation for Successful UK Skilled Worker Visa Applications

Programmers Overtaken by Chefs as Top Occupation for Successful UK Skilled Worker Visa Applications

Programmers Overtaken by Chefs as Top Occupation for Successful UK Skilled Worker Visa Applications

According to a recent analysis by the Financial Times, chefs have surpassed IT professionals as the most common occupation among migrants arriving in Britain on skilled worker visas. This shift reflects broader changes in the hiring landscape and highlights persistent labour shortages in certain sectors, especially hospitality.

Key Points:

Chef Visas Surge:

  • In the year leading up to March 2024, a total of 6,203 chefs were granted skilled worker visas, marking a 54% increase compared to the previous year.
  • This surge in chef visas contrasts sharply with the decline in work permits granted to programmers and software developers, which fell from 8,752 to 4,280 during the same period
Tech Sector Slowdown:
  • While recruiting slowed down in the tech sector and other white-collar professions, labour shortages persisted in lower-paid sectors.
  • The Office for National Statistics reported that immigration remained close to record levels in 2023, with work overtaking study as the primary reason for people coming to the UK.
  • However, the surge in visas was largely driven by care workers and their relatives.
Changing Landscape:
  • Employers sponsored fewer new recruits in highly paid areas that traditionally accounted for the majority of skilled worker visas.
  • Overall, 67,703 skilled worker visas were issued by the Home Office in the year to March 2024, representing a 2% decrease compared to the previous year.
  • The tech sector experienced a slump, affecting overseas recruitment of IT business analysts, while management consultant visas dropped by 42% year-on-year.
Minimum Salary Requirement:
  • Despite employers rushing through applications ahead of increased visa fees, some occupations face challenges.
  • Chefs, in particular, are likely to be priced out of the visa system due to the rising minimum salary requirement.
  • The current minimum salary is £38,700, or £30,800 for younger workers, while the average annual salary for a chef was £22,877 in April 2023.
Government Clampdown:
  • The UK government’s rule changes aim to reduce immigration, including banning students and care workers from bringing family members.
  • Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride launched a campaign urging employers to hire unemployed British workers.
  • Business groups remain sceptical, citing labour shortages that have pushed individual companies to the brink.
Chef Skills in Demand:
  • Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UKHospitality, emphasised that chefs are among the few roles skilled enough to qualify for a visa.
  • Although the vacancy rate has eased from its post-Covid peak, chefs still play a crucial role in the sector where 6% of jobs remain unfilled.
South Asian Arrivals:
  • The rise in chef visas is driven by arrivals from South Asia.
  • In the first three months of 2024, 25% of visas were issued to Indians, 22% to Bangladeshis, and 21% to Pakistanis.
  • Curry house owners have long advocated for easier access to the visa system to address staffing challenges.

Industry Impact:

Whilst continuing labour shortages have led to an increase in skilled worker visas for jobs in food and hospitality, this could be viewed as good news for the industry as it recovers from the ravages of COVID and the cost-of-living crisis.

KPI Hospitality BDM Tony Lewis said, “Accommodation and food service now account for whopping 17% of skilled worker visas approved in the first three months of 2024, which is more than double the proportion in 2022.”

“This illustrates the challenge for recruiters in the hospitality trade. With sector the now emerging from the dark days of the pandemic, recruitment and personnel is the only real blocker to a stronger recovery and industry progression. It’s crucial that restaurants, hotels, event venues and pubs have a robust strategy in place to attract and retain the right people to gain a competitive advantage.”

Need help with Hospitality Recruitment? Call Tony Lewis on 07706 328653, email TonyL@kpihospitality.co.uk or find out more about our servce here

Struggling to recruit IT professionals? Call our Head of Technology Recruitment Hector Van Duesbury on 07508 274 202, email HectorV@kpir.co.uk or find out more here


  1. Financial Times
  2. Office for National Statistics
  3. UKHospitality