Visa cut for seasonal workers "deeply disappointing"

Plans to reduce the number of Seasonal Worker visas available for essential harvest work from 2023 onwards will lead to substantial shrinkage in Scotland’s fruit and veg sector, the industry has claimed.

Mark Dowie
Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 12:01pm
Visa cut for seasonal workers
The number of visas will be maintained at 30,000 for 2022, but will be scaled back in future years.

Describing the Home Office’s decision to maintain the number at 30,000 for 2022, but to scale this back figure back in future years, as “deeply disappointing” NFU Scotland said that the decision showed a complete disconnect from the industry.

Martin Kennedy, NFU Scotland president, said: “The seasonal workers visa scheme is an essential route to get the workers needed for fruit, veg and ornamental sectors. Plans to start dismantling the scheme are a blow and mean some very difficult decisions will have to be made about future production.”

He said that there had been a shortfall of labour of around 20% last year which had led to significant losses and millions of pounds worth of food rotting in fields.

Mr Kennedy continued: “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 instead of 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.

He continued: “Failure to secure UK workers is not for want of trying. Our survey of fruit and vegetable members in September 2021 found one Scottish fruit and veg business that had offered 100 contracts of employment to UK applicants; six were accepted and only three turned up to work.

“Our horticultural sector punches way above its weight, accounting for only one per cent of our land area but 16 per cent of our agricultural output. Its ongoing success is wholly dependent on securing the necessary labour.”

Welcoming the UK government move which stated that the sector would have to improve pay and conditions to attract more UK workers, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “The scheme will help raise wages in the sector which, along with improved conditions, will help make agriculture more attractive to domestic workers."

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