The UK government announced on Thursday that it would allow its horticultural producers to recruit up to 2,500 non-EU seasonal workers per year in 2019-20 to address the shortage of seasonal labor, a problem exacerbated by Brexit.
The workers will be granted six-month visas in response to long-running demands by fruit and vegetable producers, faced with a decline in the number of European seasonal workers, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria.
The pilot project will start in the spring of 2019 and run until the end of December 2020, when the transition period following the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union will end.
Environment Minister Michael Gove said in a statement that his government had heard farmers’ “powerful arguments” for opening the seasonal labor market to non-EU nationals, as has already been done in other EU states likes Germany and Ireland.
“From lettuce in East Anglia to strawberries in Scotland, we want to make sure that farmers can continue to grow, sell and export more great British food.
“This two-year pilot will ease the workforce pressures faced by farmers during busy times of the year.
“We will review the pilot’s results as we look at how best to support the longer-term needs of industry outside the EU,” Gove said.
With the fall in unemployment in Romania and Bulgaria, the number of people leaving those countries in search of work in the UK has reduced. The uncertainties surrounding Brexit including the fall in the value of sterling and a perceived rise in anti-immigrant sentiment have made the UK a less attractive option for seasonal workers.
The National Farmers’ Union said the announcement was a “major victory”.
“Farmers and growers have seen worker availability tighten significantly in recent years … Growers will take great confidence in knowing that the government is listening during what have been extremely testing and uncertain times for the sector,” NFU President Minette Batters said in a statement.
NFU Scotland, a separate organisation, said it was a step in the right direction but 2,500 visas UK-wide was “significantly short of what is likely to be needed to make a difference to the labour needs of the sector”.