Ukrainian ex-farm workers to staff new advice hub for seasonal labourers in Scotland
The centre will provide urgent support on immigration
Ukrainian and Russian-speaking former horticultural workers are to offer urgent help and advice to seasonal staff in Scotland who are locked-out of UK visa schemes, the Scottish Government has announced.
Of all those granted a seasonal worker permit in the UK in the year ending June 2021, almost 75 per cent were from Ukraine. Many are employed within Scotland's soft fruit sector.
However, under Home Office rules those workers are not eligible for the main government schemes aiding Ukrainian refugees. An extension scheme will open for applications next month, but will not cover farmworkers who have left their jobs due to poor working conditions, ill-treatment or other factors.
Legal charity JustRight Scotland will now partner with the Scottish Government on a new Worker Support Centre aimed at this group.
Former horticultural staff have been recruited to staff the centre, which will serve as a "first contact" for seasonal workers. It will provide immigration advice on how they can stay and work in Scotland while the war in Ukraine continues.
Neil Gray, the Minister for Refugees, said: "Agricultural workers from Ukraine play a valued and important role in the production of soft fruit and vegetables in Scotland.
"We know that as a result of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, there are a wide range of pressing and often complex issues which are likely to be of great concern, and it is essential that they receive support to navigate these."
Caroline Robinson of JustRight Scotland commented: "This Worker Support Centre follows models used around the world to offer temporary migrant workers advice and support in times of crisis.
"In countries from Canada to Germany temporary migrant workers are offered a similar service. This support can help prevent workers ending up in situations of human trafficking and is an important step forward for Scotland."
Speaking in Holyrood, Gray said that in establishing separate visa schemes for people from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, the Home Office has created a "complicated" system which "risks confusion for people seeking refuge as well as service providers".
And he said that while the UK Government has indicated it will provide a £10,500 per person tarrif to the Scottish Government for those arriving through its super-sponsor scheme, it is "confusing and illogical that public funding is only attached to certain visa routes" and there is "uncertainty" about whether the support will be available for those arriving through the Ukrainian family scheme.
Conservative MSP Donald Cameron asked Gray to comment on "anecdotal reports" that applying to use the super-sponsor scheme "has the effect of actually slowing down the process" for Ukrainians "because it doesn't count as an actual application".
Gray said he has "no evidence to suggest that the super-sponsor route in itself is a blockage", adding: "If he has evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that you'd like to share with me, I'd be more than happy to see that and to be able to pass that on to the Home Office to secure the processing is happening as quickly as possible."