Brexit immigration blues
Immigration can be a daunting and often complex area that sometimes deters both business and individuals from making key decisions. It affects business growth and confidence as well as the aspirations of individuals. One might well question: ‘is it worth all the hassle’?
Brexit is likely to have a huge impact on the agricultural community and its ability to recruit much needed foreign labour. The question for the agricultural industry is: how do we recruit the workers needed to meet the current local, national and international produce demands?
The agricultural industry has long relied on an international workforce. Indeed, agricultural businesses are, quite rightly, proud of the diverse workforce they employ and the benefit this brings: both to their own businesses and to local communities. Most agricultural businesses are very happy to see this partnership continuing long into the future.
But how does the agricultural industry recruit after Brexit, especially given the prospect of a no-deal outcome on 31 October? Currently, the agricultural industry is estimated to employ between 27,000 and (during peak times) 75,000 EU nationals. These workers are free to travel to and work in the UK without a visa. This will change if the UK leaves the EU without a deal from October, bringing an end to free movement into and out of the UK.
This is of huge concern to the agricultural industry. According to the Office for National Statistics, 99% of seasonal agricultural workers recruited by labour providers come from the EU.
During the Conservative Leadership Contest, the new Prime Minister resurrected the notion of an Australian-style point’s based system which was a key feature of the “Vote Leave” Campaign. Regardless of the merits (or otherwise) of that proposal generally, the implications for the agricultural industry are clear.
The current visa system for non-EU nationals is targeted at attracting only highly skilled people, with potential earnings and a suitable level of English as fundamental pre-requisites. Therein lies the issue. Many people that work in the agricultural sector do not earn the necessary income or have the level of English required for a successful visa application. Indeed, the government does not even recognise agricultural work as highly skilled enough to warrant the grant of a visa, even where the income and English language requirements can be met.
So what is the solution? The government is currently running the Seasonal Workers Pilot to attract agricultural workers to the UK. The pilot is designed to help the current shortage of workers in the sector and is open to non-EU nationals for the years 2019 and 2020, with the intention of adding this pilot to the points based system if the UK were to leave the EU with a transition period up to 31st December 2020.
The pilot allows for a small number of non-EU nationals (2,500) to work in the industry for 6 months. The pilot is designed to allow for a smooth process for recruiting workers from outside the EU. The number allowed by the pilot is now filled; such is the demand for seasonal labour.
Uncertainty abounds. In the short term, how does the agricultural industry meet the demand for seasonal labour? Longer term: how will the Seasonal Workers Pilot evolve, and how will it feature in the immigration landscape of the next decade and beyond? In truth, it appears there are more questions than answers.
On a more positive note, many current agricultural workers can rely on the government’s new Settlement Scheme to remain in the UK.
As we move forward into a changing political climate, it is important that both business and individuals in the agricultural industry receive the correct immigration advice. Battens has assisted many companies and their workers in their immigration requirements. Battens offers expert, tailored advice on all stages of the visa process.