British agriculture will experience an acute shortage of workers this
summer due to the war in Ukraine. Most seasonal farm workers in the UK come
from the war-torn country, where martial law now forbids men between the
ages of 18 and 60 from leaving.
High numbers of seasonal workers also come from Russia and Belarus, where
events are also predicted to have an impact on seasonal farm work migration
to the UK.
Experts are calling for an urgent review of the seasonal visa scheme to
avert a manpower crisis and a shortage of produce.
New Home Office figures show that of the 29,631 seasonal work visas issued
last year, 19,920 were given to Ukrainians, 67% of the total. Over 2,200
Russians and 1,000 Belarusian nationals were also granted seasonal visas.
It is estimated that 6,000 Ukrainians on the scheme are still in the UK.
Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University
of Oxford said: “The data shows how heavily UK farms have relied on
Ukrainian workers in particular, raising the question whether this source
of workers will be disrupted by unpredictable events in that region.”
Before Brexit, most migrants coming to the UK to work were from EU
countries. Since the end of EU free movement, the large majority now come
from non-EU countries. Ukrainians were the second largest national migrant
group, after Indians.
Visa law expert, Yash Dubal, Director of A Y & J Solicitors
is calling for an urgent review of the Seasonal Worker visa scheme together with a government-backed recruitment drive in other nations unaffected by the conflict.
He said: “We have already seen the impact manpower shortages have had in
the meat processing and logistics sectors. The government needs to get
ahead of the curve on the issue of seasonal workers. Solutions are needed
now. The Seasonal Worker visa application process should be speeded up,
streamlined, and simplified. There also needs to be a recruitment campaign
in other countries which have historically been a source of seasonal labour
such as Romania and Bulgaria.”
There are currently 30,000 visas available for seasonal workers with an
additional 10,000 if required. In February the NFU warned the figure was
insufficient to meet the sector’s needs, however. And there are also
concerns that replacing the experienced workforce from Ukraine with less
experienced migrants will affect productivity.
As Nick Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits explained: “This will
reduce the productivity of our workforce and make it even more important
that the Home Office releases the promised 10,000 extra visas promptly, to
ensure growers can get their crops picked with what will be a different and
less efficient workforce.”