Agriculture is seeing the most severe shortage of workers on record. Prior to 31 December 2020, EU nationals were able to live and work in the UK, without restriction. With freedom of movement ended, farm labour shortages are unprecedented, with other factors (the pandemic, tax changes, skills shortages and an ageing population) playing their part.
So, what has been done to help?
In March 2019, the EU Settlement Scheme was introduced to secure the rights of EU, EEA and Swiss nationals and their families living in the UK by 31 December 2020. This helped to secure an existing pre-Brexit workforce but didn’t alleviate future recruitment challenges, particularly in agriculture, where many seasonal workers travel from the EU to work for a temporary period.
The Government introduced other measures to tackle the shortages. In March 2019, the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme enabled a limited number of migrants to work in the UK for 6 months to carry out specific roles in the edible horticulture sector. This was extended in September 2021 to include 5,500 poultry workers and 5,000 HGV drivers transporting food.
The measures were welcome news for some but were short-term and only assisted a small minority of businesses. There are other visa options available (Frontier Workers, Youth Mobility Scheme), but the Government has made clear these are not long-term solutions, instead, businesses should make better use of the existing UK workforce. They have suggested roles be made more appealing by offering pay increases, bonuses and/or additional benefits; they are encouraging investment in automation, efficiencies and training for existing staff; and to attract a more diverse workforce by promoting apprenticeships and scholarships.
Creating and developing these measures will take time and money, at a time when businesses are struggling to operate.
Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence
The ability to recruit talent from overseas remains imperative for many, especially those heavily reliant on an EU workforce. That’s why many are turning to the UK’s immigration system to secure a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence (“Licence”), enabling UK based companies to employ skilled workers within the UK, which could include, for example, farm managers/ owners, herd managers, consultants, gamekeepers and poultry butchers or processors.
If you would like more information on whether or not a Licence could help your organisation and how to apply, please contact me.