Foreign Dairy Worker Shortage Fears as Gov Reject Calls to Include on List

A last-ditch attempt to get dairy workers included on the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) Shortage Occupation List (SOL) has been rejected following a four-month consultation.

The news released today (29 September) revealed occupations should as butchers, bricklayers and welders would be added to the list, but that farmers would not.  

The MAC launched a six-week call for evidence back in May (13 May) into the skills shortage with responses being used to support the evidence-based recommendations delivered to the Home Secretary this month.  

In the report, it said they ‘did not recommend adding farmers to the SOL’ and that much of the evidence submitted was ‘related to the more general sector than to this specific occupation code’- meaning farmer. It is also said that because 80% of farmers are classed as self-employed the benefits to the occupation of being on the SOL was limited. 

There is now a real fear farms relying on foreign workers could be left with a labour shortage from next year when the new points-based immigration system is implemented.  

RABDF Managing Director Matt Knight said: The points-based immigration system will give priority to those with the ‘highest skills and greatest talents’, with dairy workers not falling into these categories.   

“There’s no doubt this latest failure to recognize dairy workers will leave the UK dairy industry with a labour shortage with some of the largest dairy producers in the UK relying on skilled foreign labour. 

He added: “There are real concerns that post-2021 some of our largest, most technically advanced dairy farms could be lost due to their reliance on foreign labour. Should this happen the repercussions would be felt right across the industry, with associated businesses such as feed companies and veterinary practices also affected, let alone the impact on milk supply.” 

A survey by RABDF in 2016 found over half of the respondents employed staff from outside of the UK in the last five years – a 24% increase on 2014. Almost two-thirds said this was due to insufficient UK staff being available.  

In the same survey more than 50% of migrant workers on dairy farms were classed as highly skilled or mainly highly skilled- something the UK government fails to recognize.   

In the coming weeks RABDF will be examining ways farmers can fill the labour shortages left by the latest restrictions. You can keep up to date by visiting  


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.