Ornamentals added to UK seasonal worker visa category

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The Home Office has agreed to include ‘ornamentals’ on the UK seasonal worker visa list. However, the government department has refused to budge on the 30,000 temporary visas made available each year, saying that the number will not be increased. The news was announced at a recent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) hearing.


The hearing, attended by UK immigration minister Kevin Foster, was held to analyse the state of agricultural labour in Britain. During the hearing, Mr Foster said that he did not want to make seasonal workers a ‘permanent feature of the UK immigration system’. 

The announcement comes despite the agricultural industry urging the Home Office to double the amount of seasonal worker UK visas from 30,000 to 60,000. However, Mr Foster said that there would be ‘no movement on this’, but he did reveal that the seasonal worker scheme would move to a three-year system to allow growers to plan in advance.


Three-year system  

The three-year system will include a minimum salary threshold and ornamentals will be added to the seasonal worker category. It’s understood that 30,000 UK visas will be made available for 2022 and 2023, but this number will be reduced to 28,000 in 2024.

Foster said: “The Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) is there to fill a specific need but not provide unlimited opportunities.”

“Recruitment of seasonal workers via a seasonal workers scheme should be balanced with making opportunities available within the domestic market and making sure there is an element of a market factor in the pay and terms of conditions that people receive,” he added.


No long-term future 

Mr Foster went on to hint that the SWP doesn’t have a long-term future, saying: “The Home office is not the labour market department and neither should it be.”

“I’d rather we had a system where we offered good terms and conditions and could recruit domestically.” 

“Looking at food security our supply is innately insecure if you rely on recruiting people overseas because you are reliant on a pool of labour who can’t get a job close to home. We have seen a recruitment shift in recent years because job packages have become less attractive,” the UK immigration minister added.

When asked about the number of providers currently orchestrating the scheme, which currently stands at four, Mr Foster admitted that he is not ‘wedded to the number of providers’, but is against a free for all system.


Talent beyond boundaries

Mr Foster repeatedly made reference to a scheme called ‘Talent Beyond Boundaries’, which is looking at unlocking skilled work opportunities for refugees and other displaced people. 

The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Martin Kennedy, welcomed the inclusion of ornamentals in the SWP, but asked for a firm commitment from the Home Office to extend the scheme.

He said: “The late and inadequate Seasonal Workers Pilot introduced by the UK government in 2021 left many growers in Scotland re-thinking the risks around investing in high-value fruit and veg plants.”

“Our horticultural and ornamental sector punches way above its weight in Scottish agriculture, accounting for only 1% of our land area but 16% of our agricultural output. Access to seasonal labour in the field and in processing is key and we will be looking for a Seasonal Worker Scheme in 2022 that starts on time and goes beyond the 30,000 visas offered in this year’s pilot,” Kennedy added.

Meanwhile, soft fruit grower James Porter of East Scryne Farm, Carnoustie said: “It is welcome to see ornamentals being included, as it offers hope to Scotland’s daffodil growers and nurseries, but unfortunately the immigration minister misunderstands the gravity of the labour shortage.”

“The whole farming industry is saying it is short of labour. Surely we can’t all be making it up,” he added.


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