The Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have unveiled a new scheme that will allow fruit and vegetable farmers to recruit non-EU migrant workers for seasonal labour.
Why is a new visa scheme being introduced?
British fruit and vegetable farmers had expressed concerns to the National Farmers' Union and National Farmers' Union, Scotland about the decrease in foreign labour since the referendum result in June 2016. A significant drop in the number of summer workers has led to crops being left unpicked.
A House of Commons briefing paper was published in July 2017 which highlighted the importance of migrant workers in agriculture and examined current concerns about labour shortages within the industry.
This was followed by a report on Immigration and Scotland from the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee which concluded that:
There is evidence that access to the UK and EEA labour markets is already insufficient to meet the current demand for seasonal agricultural workers. We recommend that the Government introduce a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme at the earliest possible date.
What was the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme and why did it end?
The new scheme possesses some similar qualities to the scheme that was previously in place for agricultural migrant workers – namely the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. This was introduced in 1945 to address post-war shortages and enable UK fruit and vegetable growers to recruit migrant workers.
In its most recent form, it provided for Bulgarian and Romanian workers to work for up to six months in low skilled agricultural work. However, this was brought to an end in 2013 when citizens from Bulgaria and Romania were given the right to enjoy free movement.
What will the post-Brexit migrant farm worker visa scheme look like?
The new initiative:
- enables non-EU migrants to obtain visas during the transition period after Brexit;
- offers visas for a period of up to six months;
- allows employers in the horticulture industry to recruit up to 2,500 workers per year;
- runs from early 2019 to December 2020;
- will be monitored closely for a trial period of two years, after which the government will decide how best to support the longer-term needs of the industry.
The pilot scheme aims to support the billion-pound horticulture industry at a time when the full extent of immigration rules post-Brexit is uncertain. Fruit and vegetable farmers should be reassured that the importance of the availability of seasonal migrant labour has been recognised.
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