Westminster call for more seasonal farm workers

A call has been made for the UK Government to increase the number of visas available under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme to at least 70,000 per year – or devolve immigration laws to the Scottish Government.

The call was issued by SNP MPs at Westminster in reaction to the UK Government’s recent decision to cap the Seasonal Workers’ Pilot scheme at 30,000 - despite UK farmers unions, including the National Famers’ Union Scotland, making it clear that at least 70,000 workers would be required to address the labour shortage which had arisen since Brexit halted the free movement of workers from Europe.

The SNP’s Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Deidre Brock MP said that Brexit had been an unmitigated disaster for Scotland’s farming industry.

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“Whether it’s our pork sector, our seed potato producers or our fishermen – their livelihoods are being devastated by an out-of-touch UK government who have no interest in their future.

“The decision to cap the Seasonal Workers’ Pilot to only 30,000 falls incredibly short of what farmers unions have asked for. The UK government must rethink this decision or, instead, devolve immigration laws to the Scottish Government so we can implement our own policies.”

She said that having enough workers to ensure fruit and veg crops were harvested and that the quality and standards of Scotland’s food and drink were maintained was essential to maintain the country’s international reputation as a source of high quality, high value exports.

“However, for as long as Scotland remains part of this dysfunctional Westminster system, the quality and standard of our produce will deteriorate,” said Brock.

The UK government’s plans to reduce the number of seasonal workers visas available for essential harvest work from 2023 onwards were roundly criticised by NFU Scotland when they were released before Christmas, claiming the move would lead to a substantial shrinkage in Scotland’s fruit and veg sector.

NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy said that the Home Office decision had shown a complete disconnect from the industry.

“The seasonal workers visa scheme is an essential route to get the workers needed for fruit, veg and ornamental sectors,” said Kennedy.

“Plans to start dismantling the scheme are a blow and mean some very difficult decisions will have to be made about future production.”

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He said that there had been a shortfall of labour of around 20 per cent in 2021 which had led to significant losses and millions of pounds worth of food rotting in the fields.

“Indications are that Scotland will produce a lot less fruit and veg next year and an announcement that will initially keep the number of seasonal visas for the UK static at 30,000 will not improve that picture.”

He said that rather than cutting numbers the scheme should have been extended to allow more of this essential labour into the country for six months - adding that the Home Office’s focus on hiring UK staff showed a huge naivety on the matter.



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