NFUS members encouraged to give views on immigration consultation

Scottish farmers are encouraged to join the discussion as the UK Government considers how its new immigration framework will shape up after Brexit

NFU Scotland is calling on its members to respond to its survey on how the UK Government plans to review the Shortage Occupation List would affect Scottish agriculture.

Foreign labour in numbers

Thousands of non-UK nationals work in essential seasonal and permanent positions across UK agriculture, food processing and road haulage.

NFU Scotland said that any barrier to non-UK citizens coming to work in Scotland during or after the UK’s exit from the EU would cause “considerable disruption” to the entire agriculture and food supply chain.

Scottish farm businesses employ up to 10,000 non-UK nationals in seasonal positions in the soft fruit and field vegetable sectors every year.

In addition, approximately 80% of vets in approved meat establishments, 33% of permanent staff in the dairy sector and a significant proportion of lorry drivers come from outside the UK.

NFU Scotland’s consultation opened in early December and will accept comments up to Monday, December 24.

Adding further impetus to respond is the publication today of a UK Government White Paper which invites consultation on a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for migrants seeking five-year visas.

Under the UK Government’s plans, those who are deemed to be ‘low skilled’ workers may be able to apply for short-term visas of up to a year.

This concession might be of some assistance to the horticulture sector which requires a large number of seasonal workers.

However could be very damaging for other parts of the agriculture, food and drink processing, and road haulage sectors, which extensively employ migrants in ‘low skilled’ occupations on a permanent basis.

‘Less ‘skilled’, but nonetheless very competent’

Commenting on the Committee’s recommendations, NFU Scotland horticulture chairman James Porter said: “Despite the union having fed extensively into the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) deliberations since summer 2017, it is hugely disappointing that it has not heeded the strong evidence that Scottish agriculture and associated industries require routes to employ non-UK workers in what are deemed less ‘skilled’, but nonetheless very competent, permanent positions.

“NFU Scotland is particularly concerned by the MAC’s recommendation that there should not be employer-led or sector-based routes for ‘lower-skilled’ migrants.

“Saying that employers need to improve pay and conditions to compete for workers is not straightforward – and to characterise the industry in this way is deeply troubling to NFU Scotland and our members.

Whilst it is true that there are opportunities for formal education in farm skills to encourage the UK workforce into these positions, the problems of attracting and training enough suitable UK workers is long-standing. And the work is simply not appealing to many people.

“Any future immigration system must be based on a realistic expectation of the ability and availability of UK workers to fill the many and varied jobs currently carried out by non-UK migrant workers.

“It is frustrating that the evidence provided by NFU Scotland and others in the agriculture, food processing and road haulage industries in this regard has not been recognised in MAC’s recommendations to the UK Government.

“It is becoming clear to NFU Scotland that there is misleading and damaging rhetoric coming from the UK Government and its advisors on where the gaps in skills and labour are.

“It is very concerning to us, and other stakeholders in the wider food and drink processing industry, that the strong evidence from our sectors has not been heeded as the UK Government considers a new immigration system for the UK.

“That is why it is vital our members continue to feed us strong evidence in order to respond to this consultation robustly, giving us the basis on which to make the case for a new immigration system post-Brexit that ensures agriculture, food and drink processing, and the whole range of downstream industries can continue to employ non-UK staff on a seasonal and permanent basis in both ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ positions.”