As tourism picks up, hotel and restaurant operators are facing a daily struggle to man their establishments adequately amid a severe shortage of staff. 

The hospitality industry has had a haemorrhaging of staff since the beginning of the pandemic.

At a time when the virus subsided in 2021 and the industry started to pick up, it was hard for management to find enough workers to run their hotels and restaurants properly. The same situation seems to be replaying itself this year and operators are becoming more frustrated at what they have labelled ‘a bottleneck’ in the processing of these visas.

Matthew Pace, vice-president of ACE, the Association of Catering Establishments, said that he has seen the industry become depleted of some of its best employees.

“I can think of at least 12 or 15 good chefs who walked away since the beginning of COVID-19,” he said.

“Some have gone into gaming, others in sales. The lack of job security caused by the pandemic played a huge part in their decision.

“Given the shortage of Maltese workers, the industry has come to rely on third country nationals to do the job but the process to get these workers the necessary permits is a lengthy one.”

The director of a chain of restaurants, who is struggling with staff shortages, has said he is having to keep some of his establishments closed for lunch on some days simply because he feels he cannot offer a good level of service with the limited number of workers he has.

I can think of at least 12 or 15 good chefs who walked away since the beginning of COVID-19

He is hoping to employ more foreigners but said there seems to be a bottleneck in the processing of applications for single-entry visas by third country nationals.

Tony Zahra, president of the hotels and restaurant association, said since the restart of the industry in February, many operators have been trying to recruit workers from a number of different countries due to the lack of availability of local staff.

“Invariably, our members have turned to recruiting from third countries. The demand for visas is happening at the same time, which is creating a bottleneck at the point of registration,” he said.

Zahra noted that the association had brought the matter to the attention of the minister concerned who reassured them that more resources were being made available to clear the backlog of visa applications.

The MHRA chief said he is hopeful the situation will be resolved soon.

The Malta Chamber flagged the delays in processing applications for working visas as one of the compounding factors in the hospitality industry’s struggle to find workers.

It said that, while the tourism industry was the hardest hit by the pandemic, prospects for the summer look good and the biggest concern for operators in the tourism industry at the moment is finding human resources to be able to meet the demand expected in summer.

“There are less than 1,000 people registering for work and recruitment of third country nationals is severely hampered by long lead times for the issue of visas and the processing of applications for single entry permits by Identity Malta and supporting entities, particularly since the number of applications has reached record levels”, the Malta Chamber argued.

Times of Malta reached out to Identity Malta, the government’s immigration authority responsible for issuing these visas, asking how many such applications are pending and what is causing the delays.

The reply was that “the single permit application process is derived from EU Directive 2011/98/EU. Under normal circumstances, where the need for additional security checks or verifications on the applicant’s suitability does not arise, the average processing time is between six and eight weeks. This falls well within the four-month timeframe stipulated by the said EU directive”.

Identity Malta said in anticipation of the demand, it has digitalised the single permit application process, which has expedited the whole process without compromising security.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us