- The first post-Brexit immigration plan released by the government looks to provide British farmers a much sought after seasonal workforce
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Beginning as of spring of next year, the UK will be 2,500 6-month visas for non-EU nationals to come to the UK to work on fruit and vegetable farms. The UK farm industry relies on the 67,000-75,000 seasonal workers that join the workforce during peak production time. As 95% of the workers come from EU countries with freedom of movement, the UK is looking for alternatives to alleviate any potential labour shortages on British farms once Brexit occurs.
This is not the first scheme of its kind in the UK. For 68 years, starting in 1945, the UK implemented a system called the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). The last iteration of the scheme, which provided an immigration route that allowed agricultural producers to satisfy their labour needs, ran from 2008 to 2013 and gave migrants from Bulgaria and Romania six-month visas that allowed them to enter the UK to work as fruit and vegetable growers. The scheme ended in 2013 when restrictions on the right to free movement for Romanian and Bulgarian people was lifted, and the EU labour market was able to provide for the UK. Brexit changed that.
Worker availability has been in decline in recent years, with a shortfall this year of 10%. Strategies like these are investments in the British farming industry that payout throughout the rest of the consumer year. The strategy came as a result of increasing pressure by farmers towards the government to ensure a protective system is in place, with farmers insisting upon the importance of seasonal labour during busy periods to ensure productivity. The scheme extends the reach of its migrant worker pool outside of the EU.
While presenting the plans, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “British farmers are vital to the UK’s economy – and the Government will look to support them in any way we can.” The scheme will run until 2020 and has been positively received by UK growers, a good start. Minette Batters, President of the National Farmer’s Union, told the Financial Times: “Growers will take great confidence in knowing they will have access to workers for the 2019 harvest, during what have been extremely testing and uncertain times for the sector.”