The Seasonal Workers Pilot, launched in 2019, has been extended and expanded for an additional year, with 30,000 visas available for migrant workers to work on UK farms for a period of up to six months.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said the expansion of the scheme follows a long period of discussions with the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Association of Labour Providers (ALP). There was particular recognition of the need for additional seasonal labour in Scotland to support local rural economies and the renowned soft fruit growers, it added.
Recruitment and retention
In addition, the government said it will work with industry to build on this year’s Pick for Britain campaign and actively promote the recruitment and retention of domestic seasonal workers in 2021.
Alongside the Seasonal Workers Pilot, Defra will also lead a review into automation in horticulture, to begin in early 2021. The review will report on ways to increase automation in the sector and meet the government’s aim of reducing the need for migrant seasonal labour.
“We will always back our farmers and growers, who work hard all year round to provide us with a secure supply of fruit and vegetables,” said George Eustice, environment secretary.
“The measures announced 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.”
Tom Bradshaw, NFU vice president, welcomed the announcement, commenting that it was positive news “not just for Britain’s growers but also for shoppers who want to enjoy home-grown fresh produce”.
“By expanding the Seasonal Workers Pilot, the government is sending a clear message that it is important for Britain to be able to produce its own fruit and veg, which has huge potential for growth,” Bradshaw added.
“This scheme will allow growers to employ seasonal workers at key times to pick a wide variety of fresh produce on British farms.”
David Camp, chief executive of the ALP, welcomed the government's decision against the challenging backdrop of Brexit and COVID-19.
“The pandemic has shown the vital role of food workers in keeping our nations fed,” Camp said. “ALP has made a strong case that, where the evidence demonstrates, there should be limited immigration of key workers into essential sectors.
“As such, ALP welcomes the government’s decision to allow immigration of seasonal workers for edible horticulture by GLAA licensed labour providers in 2021.”
Steven Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury, said the extension and expansion of the pilot showed the government was listening and responding to the farming sector as it prepares for next year’s crop.
“Farmers and growers play a crucial role throughout the year in providing fresh British quality produce for the public,” Barclay added.
“We are determined to support our farming sector as we leave the EU, and to reduce the food miles of food in our shops as part of our wider commitment to the environment.”