Learn from Guernsey on immigration

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I run a hotel and distillery in Guernsey but I’m proud to sit on the committee of the Jersey Hospitality Association because both islands have so much to share and offer. We also face similar challenges – and when it comes to controlling population, I think Jersey can learn a lot from our experiences in Guernsey.

To briefly set the scene, the States of Guernsey introduced a Population Management Law last April, which replaced the old system of housing regulation with a permit system. Jersey wants to do the same and – like Guernsey’s law – the policy does adversely affect the hospitality industry. And having read Jersey’s proposed policy, it looks far more punitive and all the hard work of the JHA, Visit Jersey and others could be reversed, almost as an unintended consequence.

One of the thorny issues for both islands is how the policy-makers determine an industry’s value. Both have used such metrics as GDP per worker, productivity per worker and number of non-locals employed to establish some form of pecking order. Such measurements, however, will always put hospitality in a difficult position. We can’t compete with the wages of finance and we’ve always been reliant on migrant labour but that doesn’t tell the full story. If culture, identity and the maintenance of the ‘life’ part of the ‘work/life balance’ are indicators of importance, then hospitality is pretty much at the top.

Of course, the industry recognises that there is a need and a public desire in both islands to control population, which is why Jersey should learn from their close neighbour, who is at least a year further down the line.

Guernsey’s Population Management Law is far from perfect but it is better now because industry has been given a seat close to the policy-makers. The Population Office, to their credit, created the Population Employment Advisory Panel (PEAP), and the Tourism and Hospitality sub-group of the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce, which I also sit on, was asked to join.

From the start, we had to get the States to understand that our industry is different in the way we employ staff. For example, permits can be issued before someone arrives in the island but the system assumed that there would be a set timeframe and it could all be done over the phone. We had to explain that if a business loses a chef, we need a replacement for the next meal. Also, we needed to assess their capabilities before giving them a job. We successfully lobbied for making that part of the policy more flexible.

Also, the law introduced a ‘nine-month-on; three-month off’ pattern for seasonal staff, with a five-year limit. Through PEAP, we convinced the States to scrap that limit to make sure we didn’t lose the fantastic staff who return to Guernsey year after year. Again, the law capped the time that a member of staff could live in hotel accommodation and government listened to our concerns and removed the five-year limit. We were also able to ensure that there was framework around which job titles should get short-, medium- and long-term permits.

All of the problems that we have encountered as an industry over the past 12 months have been constantly communicated through PEAP to the States, who have mostly been willing to respond and adapt. I urge the States of Jersey to follow Guernsey’s example on this.

I understand it is difficult to balance migration in our islands with a framework for a successful economy but I am troubled that there is little in Jersey’s proposed Migration Policy that supports hospitality. As it stands, Visit Jersey’s agreed aim to bring in an extra million tourists spending £500m by 2030 will be seriously undermined.

We are in a very dynamic environment, especially with Brexit, and staffing will remain a significant issue for hospitality. The problem we’ve had in Guernsey is that our population policy has been communicated far and wide, and people think the island is closed for business. That has been detrimental and made staffing even more challenging.

If we want to become more successful we need an environment that encourages innovation and enterprise; not stymies it. In Guernsey, a lot of pressure was rooted in fear rather than fact – the concern that migrants were a burden on the state, when, in fact, the vast majority contribute far more than they take out. Jersey needs to get its facts straight first.

I sit on the fantastic board of the JHA because I want to see more collaboration between the islands. The synergies are huge and we can both learn from each other. Hospitality will always require a proportionally high number of permits; that is the nature of the industry and policy-makers, and the public, need to see its value in far broader terms than the economic value or qualifications of its front-line staff. Above all, any new system needs to be balanced, proportionate and fair.

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