A two-year pilot to support UK farmers by allowing non-EU migrant workers to work on farms, then return after six months, has been announced by the Home Secretary and Environment Secretary today (Thursday 6 September).
The limited pilot will mean fruit and vegetable farmers are able to employ migrant workers, which they currently rely on for seasonal work, for up to six months, before their return. 2,500 workers from outside the EU will be able to come to the UK each year, alleviating labour shortages during peak production periods.
Soft fruit production in the UK has grown dramatically, by 130% in the last 20 years. To ensure that this growth continues and the UK is at the forefront of the next agriculture revolution, farmers must also look at ways that technology can reduce demands for this physical labour.
However, automated harvesting solutions are not universally available and so, in the short term, this pilot will support farmers during peak production periods.
This time-limited pilot will also explore how to keep British horticulture competitive, as almost all other OECD countries source seasonal workers to pick fruit and vegetables.
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.
“This pilot will ensure farmers have access to the seasonal labour they need to remain productive and profitable during busy times of the year.
“I am committed to having an immigration system that reduces migration to sustainable levels, supports all industry and ensures we welcome those who benefit Britain.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:“We have listened to the powerful arguments from farmers about the need for seasonal labour to keep the horticulture industry productive and profitable.
“From lettuce in East Anglia to strawberries in Scotland, we want to make sure that farmers can continue to grow, sell and export more great British food.
“This two year pilot will ease the workforce pressures faced by farmers during busy times of the year. We will review the pilot’s results as we look at how best to support the longer-term needs of industry outside the EU.”
NFU President Minette Batters said: “This announcement is a major victory for the NFU, its members and the public. It follows two years of evidence from the NFU, growers and MPs that a shortage of workers has been hampering food production, and is recognition from the Government that British horticulture is a successful, thriving sector which faces some unique challenges but is capable of producing more great, healthy British fruit and vegetables for people to eat.
“Farmers and growers have seen worker availability tighten significantly in recent years, with the shortfall to July this year reaching ten per cent. Growers will take great confidence in knowing that the government is listening during what have been extremely testing and uncertain times for the sector.
“We would like to thank all those MPs and our members that have championed this issue with the government. We would also like to thank Michael Gove and Sajid Javid for recognising the seriousness of the situation. The Secretary of State for food and environment said at NFU Conference in February that the case for a scheme was compelling and he has delivered on his commitment.
“We look forward to working with Defra and the Home Office on examining and developing the details of the scheme.”
The Seasonal Workers pilot will be run by two scheme operators, who will oversee the placement of the workers. The arrangements for selecting the scheme operators will be announced in due course.
To be eligible for the pilot workers must be aged at least 18 years old on the date of application and be from outside of the European Union.
The pilot will commence in the spring of 2019, will run until the end of December 2020 and will be monitored closely by the Home Office and Defra.