German tourism industry: The difficult search for staff

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Many hotels and restaurants in Germany lack employees. Help could come from abroad – if visas weren't issued so slowly.

Who makes the beds? In the summer of 2022, many hotels had to close due to a lack of staff

From Cameroon to Eilsbrunn – that is the route that three young men recently travelled. In the Bavarian province, not far from Regensburg, they are now completing an apprenticeship as a chef. She was hired by Muk Röhrl, owner of the Röhrl restaurant of the same name, a traditional family business – since 1658.  “It's hard to find German trainees,” he says. “No one wants to work in the hospitality industry anymore.” So Röhrl looked around abroad and finally found what he was looking for in Africa.

Eight months until the visas arrived

It wasn't a sure-fire success. Actually, the young men should start their service in September 2022. Although the application was made to the German diplomatic mission in June, the visas were not available until February of this year. “Of course, when things go like this, you can't plan,” says Röhrl. This is not only a problem for him as an entrepreneur. In the meantime, the owner of the apartments in which the trainees were to be accommodated threatened to rent them out to someone else. And last but not least, months of delays, as in this case, also mean organizational problems for the vocational school.

Muk Röhrl found three trainees in Cameroon. Eight months passed before they were finally able to start work in the Röhrl restaurant in Eilsbrunn.

This is not an isolated case. Although the need for staff in the hotel and catering industry is met by job seekers in many countries, it is difficult to reconcile supply and demand. “A very important sticking point is the issue of visas,” says Sandra Warden, Managing Director of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA). In some Balkan countries, for example, the demand for visas exceeds the number of appointments offered by diplomatic missions by a factor of 150. “There are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people who have already found an employer in Germany who would like to take them on, but who can't apply for a visa.”

Those who are unlucky are left out

For example, there is the embassy in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, which now works with a private service provider due to the high volume of applications. In addition, because the “very high demand” according to the embassy “far exceeds” the available dates, these have been assigned monthly in a lottery since December 2021. The procedure at the embassy in Sarajevo is similar. Those who are unlucky will be left out.

The staff deficit in gastronomy was 11 last year .8 percent.

“Obviously this is a particularly blatant example,” says Warden. “But there are also other parts of the world where the problem arises.” For example in India, China and Southeast Asia.” Basically, a recurring pattern can be observed: the diplomatic missions do not see themselves as the bodies responsible for a culture of welcome and low-bureaucracy in issuing visas.” A defensive attitude often prevails: “Oh God, they all want to come to Germany?!” 

There will probably be vacancies again this summer

The lack of staff in the hotel and catering industry is not a new phenomenon, but the situation worsened drastically during the course of the corona pandemic, especially in the catering industry. Last year, the staff deficit there was 11.8 percent, according to a statement recently published by the Federal Statistical Office. The working conditions are demanding, and many jobs in the industry are “mentally and physically exhausting,” says Warden. On the other hand, wage increases last year were in the double-digit percentage range in some cases. Nevertheless, she expects that numerous positions will remain vacant in the industry this summer. Auxiliaries and skilled workers from abroad could close the gaps. If only it weren't so complicated.

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The Federal Foreign Office confirms that it is aware of the difficulties. “We have already taken on the problem of the sometimes long waiting and processing times for visas for skilled workers and visas to take up work,” it said on request. “In the last few months, we within the Federal Foreign Office have drawn up an action plan for visa acceleration, in which we have recorded what measures would be necessary to remedy the situation.” What the Federal Foreign Office can implement in its sole responsibility is addressed directly, including the digitization of the application process. The Federal Foreign Office also refers to the revision of the Skilled Immigration Act, which is currently underway. The SPD, FDP and Greens had already stated in the coalition agreement: “We want to speed up the issuing of visas and digitize them more.”

< p>Food is ready! Due to a lack of staff, service robots are already being used in restaurants.

“It's not just about speeding things up”

For restaurateur Muk Röhrl from Eilsbrunn, however, it's definitely possible not just about speed, but also about transparency. There is simply a lack of reliable statements on the expected duration of the visa process. The embassies cannot be reached, and there is no answer to inquiries by e-mail. “It's not just about the fact that things have to go faster,” says Röhrl. “It has to be plannable. If I know it will take half a year, then I can prepare for it.”