The Home Office and DEFRA have announced that the Seasonal Worker visa route will be extended until the end of 2024, which will allow foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months to work in the horticulture sector.
However, the government has demanded that a plan be made for the sector to reduce its reliance on foreign labour.
There will be 30,000 visas available next year, but this will be kept under review with the potential to increase by 10,000 if necessary. The number of visas will begin to taper down from 2023 and the sector will have to improve pay and conditions.
Following the 2019 review of the pilot, the Home Office has reviewed the requirements placed on the scheme operators and updated the seasonal worker sponsor guidance to tighten the compliance requirements.
The UK is committed to becoming a high-skilled, high-wage economy and the government has been clear that more must be done to attract UK workers through offering training, career options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology.
NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw commented on the announcement, saying: “This is positive news for the thousands of fruit, veg and flower growers that rely on essential seasonal workers to help pick, pack and grade our iconic fresh produce. These growers will be extremely relieved to have clarity over the future of the scheme for the next three years.
“We have worked closely with ministers and officials to secure the additional visas and the inclusion of ornamentals, which is something we have been calling for and is desperately needed for flower and plant growers across the country.”
Mr. Bradshaw concluded: “With labour shortages so rife across the entire food supply chain, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to engage with the government on the sector’s needs.”