Seasonal worker visas tripled for 2021 in ‘hard won’ campaign
The UK Government has increased the number of visas available for seasonal workers to help with next year’s harvest to 30,000.
But the SNP has said this is still not enough and warned it will result in a “significant cut to the seasonal workforce”.
The seasonal worker scheme pilot, launched in 2019, originally allowed up to 10,000 workers to come to the UK.
The tripling of permits available has been “hard won”, NFU Scotland has said, with the union previously warning the lower limit would result in worker shortages, crop loss and financial losses.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “The significant upscale of the seasonal worker scheme from 10,000 to 30,000 permits has been hard won.
“Following close and supportive dialogue with government and MPs, NFU Scotland welcomes this increase on the understanding that the EU Settlement Scheme will allow workers who have undertaken work on Scottish horticulture farms prior to 2021 to return.”
The NFU has warned the success will depend on how many workers who have pre-settled and settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme will return from the EU next year.
But the SNP has said Scotland alone needs 10,000 seasonal workers in agriculture and pointed to previous demands from the NFU calling for 70,000 workers to be able to enter the UK each year.
SNP MP Dave Doogan said: “Scotland’s agriculture sector has been consistently failed by dodgy deals made by governments in Westminster, but these latest plans make clear that the Tory government has no respect for the agriculture sector in Scotland.
“Against the double threat to Scotland’s agriculture sector from COVID and Brexit, disruption to the food supply in the coming months simply cannot be considered. The UK Government needs to urgently rethink these deeply damaging proposals.”
However, the UK Government has insisted the change will provide certainty for the next year, while a review of automation led by Defra will look at reducing the reliance migrant labour going forward.
UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The measures announced today will provide vital labour, both domestic and from abroad, to our farmers and growers to help gather the 2021 harvest to feed the nation. Our review into automation will pave the way for a pioneering and efficient future for our fruit and vegetable growers.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross also welcomed the announcement. He said: “Many farmers and growers told me about the vital need to secure enough workers following an end to freedom of movement. They were clear that the proposed number of 10,000 was not enough.
“In my meetings with the Prime Minister I set out the case for an increase to at least 30,000 workers and I’m pleased he and the government worked with those of us who were calling for this increase.”