Delays in issuing of non-EU work permits worsening worker shortage, hoteliers lament

Hotels and restaurant survey finds continued growth but industry players highlight problem of work permit delays when employing foreign nationals • Jobs Plus says it is now processing 2,600 employment applications per month, up 800 from last year

Tourist arrivals, hotel guest nights and restaurant patronage all up in first quarter
Tourist arrivals, hotel guest nights and restaurant patronage all up in first quarter

The hospitality industry continued to experience growth in the first quarter of this year but key players have insisted that labour shortages were not being helped by delays in the issuance of work permits for non-EU nationals.

The findings come from the hotels and restaurants performance survey commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association for the first three months of 2018. The findings were presented today by Deloitte, an audit firm, and Bank of Valletta.

While tourist arrivals, hotel guest nights and restaurant patronage numbers are up, industry employers are facing challenges in finding enough workers, partly due to the time it takes to issue a permit to people coming from outside the EU.

The employment situation in Malta has never been better, Peter Rieks, Maritim Antonin Hotel’s general manager commented, however non-EU workers were having to wait three months for a work permit, which is not an ideal situation.

Panel of agency and industry stakeholders
Panel of agency and industry stakeholders

“We need, for instance, 1,000 waiters, and only five work permits are issued. Sometimes they are held up by bureaucratic matters, such as the need for reference letters. Do you need such a letter for a waiter?” he asked, prompting Jobs Plus CEO Mario Xuereb to retort than in fact reference letters for such low-scale positions had actually been done away with.

Jobs Plus was very much aware that demand for work is much greater than the supply, Xuereb said.

“In 2017 Jobs Plus was processing 1,800 non-EU nationals’ employment licence applications per month, but this has risen to 2,600 in 2018,” Xuereb said.

“We’re not happy with this [delay-related] situation,” Identity Malta CEO Anton Sevasta said. “In the next few weeks we will launch a new portal where work permit applications can be submitted online.”

Identity Malta had a very good idea of the scenario businesses were facing, and were determined to address delays and be a shoulder for employees to rest on, newly appointed chairman of the agency Ian Castaldi Paris said.

The statistics

Tourist arrivals increased by almost 19%, and guest nights by close to 18.5%, Raphael D’Aloisio, Deloitte financial advisory leader, said.

The average length of stay remained stable, while tourist expenditure was more than up by more than 14%.

Germany, UK and Italy respectively accounted for the greatest increases in tourist arrivals.

Restaurant patrons for the first three months of this year were split at 52% tourists, and 48% locals, with the survey also showing that the majority of restaurant employees were foreign, at 56% of the total, compared to 44% for locals.

The largest increase in restaurant revenue was in Valletta, with a 9% growth, followed by the south region of Malta, at 6%

Most restaurants declared they were satisfied with their revenue.

MHRA president: Do not destroy what tourists come to see

Tourist arrivals were now approaching rates which could “only be dreamed about” only a few years back, MHRA president Tony Zahra said, however it was important for tourists and locals not to end up destroying what tourists come to Malta to see.

MHRA president Tony Zahra
MHRA president Tony Zahra

“The figures are impressive, but it’s now the time to focus on sustainability,” Zahra underlined.

Zahra said that almost 25% of global destination management organisations said their destination was overcrowded because of tourist arrivals, with 37% saying this had a negative effect, and 9% maintain they felt impaired by “over-tourism”.

Remarking the “over-tourism” was a positive thing for those searching for a job, but was somebody else’s “invaded neighbourhood”, Zahra questioned whether it was sustainable for Malta to keep increasing its tourist visit numbers.

He referred to Austria’s tourism strategy of changing from counting numbers to increasing the quality of tourists and the amount they spent.

The survey indicated that the number of tourist and guest nights, tourist expenditure, growth in accommodation as well as operational costs had increased between January and March 2018, compared to the same period last year.