Answering the demands of professionals of the industry, the Government has decided to extend the seasonal farm work visa scheme until 2024. Should a foreigner be awarded the said visa, they would be allowed to come to the UK for a maximum of six months to work in different farming sectors, including horticulture.
As many as 30,000 visas will be available next year, with the potential to increase by a further 10,000.
This follows several complaints issued by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), who claimed Brexit caused massive staff shortages in their field.
Most seasonal workers hired for harvesting ornamental crops or working in slaughterhouses are foreigners who accept the precariousness of the job and its low wages.
As many EU nationals left the UK due to Brexit on top of the pandemic, farmers ended up with much less staff than usual.
Professionals have had to throw away produce and cut back on production because of a lack of workforce.
In September, the National Pig Association said more than 70,000 pigs faced being destroyed because of staff shortages.
Following the extension of the seasonal work visa, Tom Bradshaw, president of the NFU, said in a statement: “This is positive news for the thousands of fruit, veg and flower growers that rely on essential seasonal workers to help pick, pack and grade our iconic fresh produce.
“These growers will be extremely relieved to have clarity over the future of the scheme for the next three years.
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“With labour shortages so rife across the entire food supply chain, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to engage with the Government on the sector’s needs.”
The Government has explained in the past that Brexit should have pushed these industries to raise wages and make these occupations more attractive for British nationals.
Kevin Foster, Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, said: “The extension to the Seasonal Worker visa route strikes the right balance of supporting the industry while it transitions to employing and prioritising domestic workers.”
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said: “We had a seasonal worker scheme for agriculture from the time of the second world war and long before we joined the EU.
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“We recognise that agriculture has unique and seasonal requirements for labour at harvest and have listened to our world-leading fresh produce industry to understand their needs.”
The number of visas available will be kept under review and will taper down from 2023, the Home Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
The Government has demanded a plan from the sector to cut the reliance on foreign labour.