Martin is urging Boris Johnson to introduce a special visa scheme with the European Union as British pubs and restaurants struggle with staff shortages following months of lockdown.
Hospitality chiefs have said they are being forced to shut during the vital lunchtime trade because there just aren’t enough workers to cover the shifts.
The Spoons founder has insisted that his nationwide pub chain is not currently not facing such issues in recruitment or staff numbers. However, in light of the pressures faced by the hospitality industry as a whole, he wants to see the Government introduce a new visa system, with countries geographically closer to the UK given preferential treatment.
Martin set out his position in an interview with The Telegraph, explaining that his desired new immigration system would be controlled by Britain rather than the bloc.
He told the paper: “The UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.
“America, Australia and Singapore have benefitted for many decades from this approach. Immigration combined with democracy works."
Tim Martin (right) might have to pull his own pints again soonGetty Images
After his comments were widely covered across the British press, the 66-year-old was forced to reassure investors that his company’s workforce was in good shape.
He accused The Telegraph of “misrepresent[ing] Wetherspoon’s position” and denied that his company was facing staff shortages following the reopening of UK hospitality venues.
Martin said he had told the paper that the pub giant is is in a “reasonably good position” regarding applications for new roles across the country.
However, he added that “recruitment is more challenging in some seaside towns – but that’s no different to what we experience in any year”.
Martin stressed that he still supports an “Australia-style immigration points system” with the potential for preferential visas for countries in close proximity to the UK.
“I was trying to be helpful to the journalist by providing up-to-date anecdotal information on staffing, which clearly demonstrated a very positive situation for Wetherspoon,” he said.
“However, my comments were misreported.
“The false story, expressed in the headline ‘Wetherspoons boss calls for more EU migration as bars and restaurants tackle staff shortage’ and expressed or implied elsewhere in the article, was that Wetherspoon was suffering staff shortages, which clearly isn’t true, and that I had subsequently been moved to change my stance on immigration, which, as my evidence to the parliament clearly shows, isn’t true either.”
Shares in JD Wetherspoon were down 1.6 per cent after early trading on Wednesday.
Martin has long been a prominent critic of the EU and he campaigned for the UK to leave the single market ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Current post-Brexit rules make it harder for workers in lower-skilled roles to settle in Britain, so a new visa system would make it easier for pubs, bars and restaurants to hire people from the bloc.
Issues surrounding recruitment have been further compounded by overseas workers returning home during the pandemic.
Around one in 10 hospitality workers have left the sector over the past year, according to the recruitment website Caterer.com, while the trade body UK Hospitality has estimated that the country’s been left with a shortfall of around 188,000 workers.
TGI Fridays chief executive Robert Cook told The Telegraph that the country’s coronavirus situation, as well as Brexit rules around hiring, were discouraging people from choosing roles in hospitality.
"It's a perfect storm,” he said.
“There's the arduous process of hiring from the EU and the change of statuses around the new visa process, which is more cumbersome and less user friendly.
“Other people are not moving back here because of the situation with Covid.”
The Home Office has said that it wants employers to rely less on foreign labour and focus more on training and investing in British workers.
However, a spokesperson told The Telegraph that the department was making it "simpler" for employers to attract talent from around the world "to complement the skills we already have".