Any wage threshold on workers from the European Union post Brexit must take into account low salaries in key tourism hotspots such as the Lake District, a leading trade association has said.

UKinbound has said that any such threshold imposed by the Government must be set regionally or risk causing severe damage to the tourism industry in Cumbria and the wider North West.

The organisation is also calling on languages to be added to the Government’s occupational shortage list and to be exempt from immigration restriction. It also wants quarterly independent reviews to be undertaken to ensure the tourism sector is not adversely affected by a new post-Brexit immigration policy.

The calls come after research by UKinbound and Canterbury Christ Church University has found that current Government immigration policy has the potential to severely destabilise the tourism industry in the UK.

A survey of North West tourism and hospitality businesses found that 63 per cent believe the proposals would negatively on their ability to continue to operate and 71 per cent that they would hinder their attempts to stay competitive.

While 68 per cent said the policy would hold back any plans to expand, 69 per cent cited a limited domestic labour market as the reason for their continued need for workers from EU countries.

Under current Government proposals, workers from the EU will need to earn more than £30,000 a year to stay in the UK longer term post-Brexit.

And while it is understood to be considering lowering the wage threshold to £22,500, it is still way above the average wage in hospitality for Cumbria, which stands at £17,000.

The issue has been repeatedly highlighted by businesses and organisations such as Cumbria Tourism, which fears the wage threshold could leave a gaping hole in the county’s workforce and hit an industry worth £3 billion a year to the economy and £10bn to the wider North West.

Joe Cobb, chair of the Lake District Hotels Association outlined the workforce predicament facing the county.

“The industry is massively dependent on non-UK employees to make up their workforce as there is a local unemployment rate of approximately 0.9 per cent, and net migration out of Cumbria is around 2,000 people every year,” he said.

“We know that approximately 59 per cent of workers in the Lake District are from within the EU, whilst 4 per cent are foreign nationals from outside the EU.

“If restrictions are placed on employing EU nationals, the industry will be left with a gaping hole with nobody to fill the gap. Since the Referendum, the number of international applicants for jobs has dropped by about 70 per cent.”

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron has also been lobbying hard on the issue, and earlier this year led a delegation of tourism businesses from the county to raise their concerns with immigration minister Caroline Nokes.

“This timely report serves as stark reminder of the damage that the Government’s immigration reforms could have on the UK tourism industry including across the Lake District,” he said.

“The Government must revisit their botched plans and come up with a solution that allows our great tourism industry to continue to thrive and play a valuable role in our communities.”

The research draws from a mixture of the analysis of national workforce datasets along with online surveys and in-depth interviews with businesses.

The findings show that shortages of low skilled labour are as damaging to the tourism and hospitality industry as high skilled and that the Immigration White Paper has “little relevance to the reality” of skills gaps. The proposed Government threshold of £30,000 is significantly above the sector’s average salary of £23,000 for full time workers – a figure that is lower still for Cumbria.

Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound said: “Our tourism industry is vital to the UK economy and EU workers are crucial to ensuring that this success story continues.

“We have a skills shortage in the UK, caused not least by low levels of language skills and a lack of interest amongst UK nationals in the sector.

“The Government must, as a first step, ensure that language skills are recognised as a key skills shortage and ensure that any future immigration system is rooted in what actually works and not in populist soundbites.”

However, it remains unclear if the Government will revisit the policy as the Brexit deadline of October 31 approaches.

Cumbria Tourism president Eric Robson has vowed to lobby political and media contacts in an attempt to force a Government rethink.

Former Cumbria Tourism managing director, now professor of practice at the University of Cumbria, Ian Stephens has also expressed fears, although he is confident the industry will adapt.

“It may take time, and it may be damaging in the short to medium term, but we will find a new labour force albeit, the sooner the better,” he told in-Cumbria recently.