The United Kingdoms Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) allows farmers and other agricultural producers to employ a limited number of migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) seasonally.
With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union at the beginning of this year, restrictions were placed on nationals of those countries working in the UK. In operation since the 1940's, SAWS was scheduled to be ended as part of ongoing immigration reform in the UK.
As a concession to the new EU member states, SAWS was instead continued and set aside to be reserved solely for Romanians and Bulgarians by 01 January 2008. Now farmers and growers in the UK feel they will not be able to fill their labor needs from those two countries alone.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) is considering taking legal action in response to the planned changes to the scheme, and wants members to write to government officials in protest.
According to Home Office guidances, under rules governed by European Union treaties, residents of the EU should be given preference over non-EU/EEA when filling vacancies. The NFU is now arguing that agricultural vacancies cannot be filled from only within the EU, and especially only from Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.
The Home Office says they expect SAWS to be filled completely by Romanian and Bulgarian nationals, but the NFU states that they have no evidence to back up this claim.
According to Richard Hirst, horticulture chairman for the NFU, the entire issue is mixed up with the recent political debate on illegal immigration.
"The Home Office is failing to recognize that seasonal work is not attractive to low skilled migrant workers," he said.
"The scheme is absolutely vital, not only to horticulture but other sectors as well and with changes to the gang master rules the demands on numbers are greater than ever. The source of European labor is drying up and we will have a real problem trying to find people to plant and harvest fruit and vegetables, not to mention all the other jobs they do."
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