Immigration Update: UK Government Announces Extensions to the Immigration Rules to Alleviate Seasonal Worker Shortage
What was the previous position on Seasonal Worker Immigration Rules in the UK?
Many bodies, both in the Agriculture sector and beyond, including the National Farmers' Union, have recently called for changes to the UK Immigration Rules (the Rules) and more particularly the Seasonal Worker route. due to increasing shortages of this worker type.
The Government always has championed the Seasonal Worker route as the 'best framework within the immigration system for facilitating the entry of overseas workers in these roles as quickly as possible". Until recently, the Rules enabled overseas workers to obtain permits for seasonal farm work in the UK for a period of up to six months. However, the only workers covered included those with roles in the edible horticulture sector, growing:
- Protected Vegetables (grown in glasshouse systems); or
- Field Vegetables (vegetables, herbs, leafy salads and potatoes); or
- Soft Fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries); or
- Top Fruit (applies, plums, cherries); or
- Vines and bines (grapes and hops); or
The Rules were considered to be too restrictive and were thought to discount other important roles within the food production sector including haulage drivers.
What changes have been implemented?
A Statement of Changes to the Rules was released by the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration on 11 October 2021. Effective from 4pm on 11 October, the Statement amends the "Appendix Temporary Work – Seasonal Worker" to add poultry production work and haulage driving work in the transportation of food goods to the Seasonal Worker definition. Poultry production roles include butcher, plucker, food operative and meat packer. Haulage roles cover large goods vehicle drivers transporting food goods.
Employers can request workers from any of the four Government-approved recruitment agencies. The changes dictate that applications should be made by 15 November for roles in the poultry production sector and by 1 December for haulage roles.
What effects will flow from the changes?
The changes extend the scope of the Rules and it is hoped that they will facilitate an increase in the flow of seasonal workers into the UK; this is particularly key in the busy run up to Christmas - a period that demands availability of food products. However, the longevity of the extensions is limited, with poultry workers only granted permission until 31 December 2021 and haulage workers granted permission until 28 February 2022. Employers in the food sector can only speculate what changes will be implemented past these dates and should keep up to date with any further guidance and extensions released by the Home Office.