‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

'So many barriers since Brexit': The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits
Photo: Philippe Desmazes | AFP
After two disastrous seasons due to Covid restrictions, French ski businesses are now recruiting for the winter ahead but are facing a different problem - post-Brexit restrictions that make hiring British seasonal workers extremely difficult.

Previously around 25,000 Brits have headed to France every year to do seasonal work and they formed a major part of the workforce in French ski resorts.

But since the UK left the EU the paperwork required to hire Brits has made this much more complicated for those needing to recruit seasonal staff and left winter sports businesses in France – many of which are owned or run by Brits who live here – facing a big problem.

Diane Palumbo, who runs the Skiworld holiday firm based in France, said: “We are now running really late.

“If this was a normal ski season, we’d start recruiting before the end of the previous season – we take the pick of the staff who have performed the best, offer them jobs for the following season, and then we start recruitment from May and June. We’d be in full swing now.

“The problem now is there are no guarantees for work permits. Applications can be turned down. You can apply for a work permit. You can apply for a long-stay visa. There is no guarantee they’ll be accepted.”

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Since the UK left the EU, British citizens are no longer able to move to France and work under Freedom of Movement. Instead, the move requires a visa – if they intend to stay longer than 90 days – and a work permit.

Businesses too have obligations, if they want to hire a non-EU citizen they must first advertise the job to establish that no French or EU citizen wants or is able to do it, and then complete paperwork for work permits.

Doing this for dozens of staff at a time at the start of the ski season is simply impractical for many businesses, and many adverts for jobs in the French ski sector now specify that only applicants who have European citizenship or the right to residency will be considered for roles.

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Clare Dawson, who runs self-catering ski holiday site Tignes.co.uk, said: “We have a five-month season but often with the cleaners we’ll do a four-month contract and then we have key staff pick up the end bits.

“Now, they [British seasonal workers] can only work 90 days – which doesn’t cover four months. We need people over Christmas and New Year, and then Easter as these are two busy periods. Britons can’t cover the full season. 

“We’d have to employ some for three months, then others for the end. This makes it too expensive and much more attractive to employ other EU workers.”

Both Clare and Diane are British and moved to France under freedom of movement, and say the feel devastated that the next generation will miss out on the opportunities that they enjoyed.

“I really don’t want this to be the case,” Diane said. “I am only going to give up my dream to let the next generation have the same opportunities I had after a fight. 

“We still want to develop with our French, Austrian, Italian counterparts to give young Britons the opportunities we had and for them to come back to the UK with that experience.”

Clare added: “It’s a huge shame not to give Britons the opportunity. I came here to work in a bar in 2000 and now have a house, partner, kids in local school here. 

“We have an amazing life and it makes me really sad to think my nieces and nephews and the next generation won’t get the same opportunities.”

But then, cold, hard business reality kicks in. “As long as it remains an application process, we’ll probably be pushed to people who have EU passports,” Diane admitted.

And it’s not just the ski sector that is affected, many tourists businesses such as summer camps have also traditionally relied on seasonal British workers to fill positions over the summer.

Diane is a representative for the seasonal workers trade body Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT), which is campaigning for bilateral agreements between countries that will allow Brits to continue to do seasonal work in France.

She said: “I grew up in a world in which going to the Alps was the same as going to Edinburgh. I got on a train, applied for a job, arrived, did the job, had an amazing experience and came home.

“Now, that’s gone. [Jobseeking for Britons in the EU is] akin to wanting to work in the United States or Canada. 

“You cannot just get on a plane and go and work. If you want to go and work in the States, your employer will have to advertise the job beforehand. They will then have to prove a local could not do that job – and that they need to hire someone from the UK.

“Your employer will help you secure a work visa, in addition to a long-stay visa if you are going to stay longer than a few weeks in that job. 

“That is the position we’re now in with the EU. What I did is not possible any more for Britons.”

25,000 jobs a year

After the Brexit referendum in 2016, SBIT estimated that some 25,000 Britons worked seasonal jobs in Europe every year. But it believes that figure is well below the actual number, as many more picked up ad hoc work while they travelled across the continent. 

Most of them were aged between 18 and 34.

It is still possible to employ British seasonal workers in France. But the additional paperwork involved – getting a work permit, arranging a long-stay visa to allow staff to stay beyond 90 days – means it is much simpler and less time-consuming for businesses to look for applicants with the right to work in the EU.

“There are barriers now which make it much harder,” Diane said.

“Unemployment in France is higher, so the pressure will be for French citizens to fill roles as opposed to Britons, or EU citizens to fill roles as opposed to Britons because EU citizens don’t have the rigmarole to go through. For travel companies, if they are to employ Britons, there is a lot more paperwork involved, which has a cost.”

Organisations like SBIT have been warning about this since the vote back in 2016. “We knew things were going this way pretty much the second the referendum result was announced,” Diane said.

“It’s taken people like Elton John a bit longer to realise that actually it applies to anyone in the UK who wants to work in the EU – we’ve lost the right to do it.”

Nor does she see much help coming from the British government – either practically or politically.

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“Governments make decisions at the top, top, top level and then they leave business to try to work it out,” she said. “There are lots of working groups across the EU trying to work out the details that Boris Johnson hasn’t seen. No politician goes into that detail.

“By reneging on the Northern Ireland protocol, by threatening unilateral action in relation to Northern Ireland, the British government has done nothing to develop the goodwill that underpins the negotiating process. I can understand that our EU counterparts are distrusting and suspicious.”

But SBIT is not giving up the fight. “The cross-fertilisation that occurs when you live and work in a country for a while and how you develop an understanding of the language and business and the ways of doing things can do nothing but enrich you individually as well as the country you end up in, culturally and commercially. 

“That’s why SBIT is fighting for an agreement to streamline something that allows young people from France to come to the UK and from the UK to come to France. 

“There’s such a surge of business around holiday dates that no indigenous population can serve the needs of a month’s worth of skiers coming to the Alps. 

“We all rely on seasonal business, and that expansion and contraction of workers based on demand delivers value to the customer – otherwise everyone’s holidays would be a third more expensive. 

“We will carry on hoping to have constructive dialogue with our European partners on both sides because the loss culturally and commercially will be palpable if we fail.”

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