Industry receives certainty over seasonal workers
The Home Office and DEFRA announced on Friday, December 24 that the seasonal worker visa route will be extended until the end of 2024, allowing foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months for work in the horticultural sector.
There will be 30,000 visas available next year, but this will be kept under review with the possibility of increasing by 10,000 if necessary. The number of visas will start to decline from 2023 and the sector will need to improve wages and conditions. Following the 2019 pilot review, the Home Office reviewed the requirements for program operators and updated the Seasonal Worker Sponsorship Guidelines to strengthen compliance requirements.
While recognizing the sector’s dependence on foreign workers, the UK is committed to becoming a highly skilled and well-paid economy and the government has made it clear that more needs to be done to attract UK workers by offering them training, career options, salary increases and investing in increased automation technology.
DEFRA will come forward with further proposals on how to support the sector as well as recommendations for progress in the automation review in due course.
Safe and Legal Migration Minister Kevin Foster said: âThe extension of the visa route for seasonal workers strikes the right balance between supporting industry during the transition to employment and prioritizing domestic workers.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: âWe have had a seasonal agricultural worker program since WWII and long before we joined the EU. We recognize that agriculture has unique and seasonal harvest labor needs and have listened to our global fresh produce industry to understand their needs.
Changes to the route, which has been in operation since 2019, will force companies to pay those who use the route a minimum wage to discourage poor conditions. It will also be extended to ornamental horticulture to support flower growers in the UK.
The changes follow a review of the Seasonal Workers Pilot which found that reliance on foreign labor kept wages down, discouraged investment, and discouraged workers (residents and non-residents alike). -residents) to occupy these roles.
Commenting on the announcement, NFU Vice-President Tom Bradshaw said, âThis is positive news for the thousands of fruit, vegetable and flower growers who rely on essential seasonal workers to keep them busy. help them pick, package and grade our iconic fresh produce. These producers will be extremely relieved to have some clarification on the future of the regime for the next three years.
âWe have worked closely with ministers and officials to secure additional visas and the inclusion of ornamentals, which we are calling for and which flower and plant growers across the country desperately need.
âWith labor shortages so prevalent throughout the food supply chain, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to engage with government on the needs of the sector. “