The UK government has been forced to extend an emergency UK visa scheme aimed at attracting foreign truck drivers amid low applicant numbers. Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that 127 EU workers had applied for the visa, only for the government to correct the number to 27 shortly afterward.
Britain is in the grip of a petrol and shop-shelf shortage amid a lack of HGV drivers. The government was recently forced to ease its strict post-Brexit immigration rules to offer a temporary UK visa until the end of the year in the hope that it would attract overseas truckers to get the UK through Christmas.
However, the temporary UK visa has done little to attract foreign truckers. Instead, many EU truckers have said that they are unwilling to help. According to official statistics, only 27 fuel tanker drivers have applied for the temporary visa, with such low application numbers forcing the government to extend the scheme until 31 March, 2022.
300 drivers sought
The extended temporary UK visa scheme announced by the government has made 300 visas available to fuel tanker drivers, enabling them to enter the country immediately and remain until 31 March, 2022.
Meanwhile, its understood that 4,700 food haulage drivers will also be granted entry to the UK under the visa scheme from late October and be allowed to remain until February.
Amid the driver shortages, the UK government has called in the military to assist with fuel deliveries.
A government statement said: “Military personnel are being trained at haulier sites, and they will be on the road delivering fuel supplies. Fuel haulage drivers from abroad will also be allowed to work in the UK immediately and will not be subjected to previous barriers.”
Further to easing visa restrictions for foreign truck drivers, it’s understood that the government will also allow 5,500 foreign poultry workers into the UK, many of which will arrive by late October. However, the validity of visas for overseas poultry workers will only last until the end of the year.
The move to ease visa restrictions for certain professions has proven to be an embarrassment for the government. In recent years, much of the focus has been on tightening UK immigration rules. Following Brexit, a stricter immigration system was launched while the approach toward immigrants has grown ever more hostile.
It is this hostility and Britain’s departure from the EU that has resulted in so few applications for the temporary UK visa. Many are of the opinion that ‘Britain has made its bed, now it must lie in it’.
Policy director at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Rod McKenzie, said: “I’m not surprised by the low visa application numbers. Boris Johnson has to take responsibility for the nationwide shortfall in HGV drivers, which is estimated to be around 100,000.”
“The temporary visas have not been sold in an attractive way to European drivers. Why would lorry drivers give up a job in Europe for a short gig in the UK? We always said 12-month visas were needed for 15,000 drivers, and for hauliers to be placed on the shortage occupation list,” Mr McKenzie added.
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