Immigration - one of the most controversial topics of the moment.  A topic that evokes a lot of emotion and divides many people. It’s also a conversation that we have a lot at work and home and decided to write about it hoping that it would prompt some responsible discussions around the affects of any change to immigration laws to small business. In particular the hospitality industry in which the majority of employees and in fact business owners, are immigrants into this country.

Yes – I am an immigrant, my wife is an immigrant and her family are all immigrants. Most of my employees and suppliers are immigrants, and throughout my career spanning over 3 decades, most of my colleagues have been too. At the risk of generalising they mostly have incredible work ethic and are highly skilled. They also accept their positions in this industry, whether its as a chef or a waiter, as a true job – something to be proud of and grateful for. As business owners, immigrants bring a richness of culture to Australia that has become part of our identity.  All you have to do is walk down the streets of inner Sydney to see the incredible array of authentic food we have available to us – from Turkish, Croatian, Thai, Vietnamese, Portuguese, African to French, Chinese and Italian. 

Any further cap on immigration will inevitably have a huge affect not only on restaurants, cafes and bars but also on our culture as a whole. Late last year I read in The Financial Review that there is an estimated 60,000 jobs in this sector unfulfilled. As the owner of two cafes, I can tell you that we already suffer from skill shortages within our workforce. Chefs in particular are hard to find and often we are employing under skilled, overpaid employees out of sheer desparation.  Waitstaff often want sponsorship however once they have it, they go.  Its therefore a short term solution for us.

The irony is that if we opened up to more skilled migration, it would in turn create more jobs for Australians and more training opportunities that would benefit the industry as a whole. I recently visited a fabulous little market in Marrickville – sepcifically for refugees and immigrants wanting to íntroduce’ their food products to potential markets.  My family and I feasted on Mexican, Sri Lankan, South African and the most glorious little Syrian treats (I have been craving them ever since).  It was a rich experience and I felt so grateful for being here in this country where we get to experience so much.

As employers, skilled immigrants are vital to our business. We are regular sponsors for overseas employees – something that has become a financial burden on our business, however we simply couldn’t suvive without it. If the process was made easier, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many jobs left unfulfilled.

We are also consistantly looking at ways in which we can be heard and encourage action. I recently had the honour of meeting with the Deputy Minister of Immigration, Alex Hawke and was invited to put across my personal views and experience in this area.   While I said my piece and will continue to push ideas forward, how much action will result from this? It’s a mighty big machine that needs to turn in order to get some change.

Frustrated with this situation, Sohani and I are looking into creating our own hospitality school.  While the hotel schools are fabulous, there is a lack of training that is more bespoke and built around smaller hospitality operations.  Our philosophy would be to encourage students to realise that they have an impact on all areas of a business and need to be trained as such.

I also wonder why there is not a more significant incentive scheme in place to encourage employers to take on more apprenticeships. One argument against immigration is that they take jobs from Australian citizens however with so many unfulfilled positions available, there is too much choice. So why are we not encouraging more apprenticeships through Tafe and other training institutes? We could look at exchange programmes with countries such as France to upskill apprentices.  We need to think outside the box and work towards a solution, quickly.

Let’s all take some time to think about the ways that we all enjoy this industry, the fabulous diversity it offers, the rich cultural experiences it gives us and the jobs it creates for so many.  Lets not kill it with irresponsible caps on immigration.