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Seasonal Agricultural Workers

Feb 21, 2024

In the agricultural workforce of the UK, there is an astonishing number of 471,000 individuals dedicated to the industry. Within this significant figure, approximately 58,000 workers are engaged in seasonal or casual labour, playing invaluable roles. These positions are filled by workers from foreign countries as farmers heavily rely on their assistance during specific times of the year.

For many years, European migrant workers have been the backbone of UK farmers, providing essential support and contributing to the industry's success. From 1945 to 2014, a visa scheme was established to facilitate the employment of migrant farm workers, mostly consisting of students from various European nations.

Currently, the Seasonal Worker visa scheme allows for an annual quota ranging from 45,000 to 55,000 individuals. Initially, the pilot program attracted workers mainly from Ukraine and Russia. However, in recent times, there has been a more diverse range of nationalities represented, including individuals from Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. These workers are permitted to engage in specific tasks, such as crop harvesting, within the realm of edible and ornamental horticulture for a maximum period of six months per year.

The Sunak Government has increased the quota for the years 2023 and 2024.

The visas are temporary, with limited rights and additional safeguards.

Seasonal Worker visas are issued by the Home Office, and the criteria are outlined in the Immigration Rules. Visa holders are not allowed to remain in the UK long-term, claim benefits, or bring their families.

The government has authorized a small number of recruitment companies, known as 'scheme operators,' to arrange Seasonal Worker visas. Farmers must hire their overseas workers through these companies and demonstrate that they are actively trying to recruit UK-based workers as well. They cannot directly sponsor Seasonal Worker visas.

As part of the visa sponsorship arrangements, scheme operators have explicit responsibilities to ensure workers' welfare and proper payment.

In 2022, one of the seven scheme operators had its license revoked, and a second one was suspended.

There is a growing concern about the exploitation of migrant workers.

The government acknowledges that Seasonal Worker visa holders "may be more vulnerable and open to exploitation than other workers." As the numbers have increased, so have instances and allegations of exploitation or poor working conditions. These include examples of workers paying overseas recruiters to secure work in the UK, which makes them more dependent on their UK employer due to the resulting debt.

Scheme operators must obtain a license from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and can have it revoked if they fail to comply with certain standards. However, the regulator does not routinely inspect farm premises and states that it is not the "lead agency" on the rights of seasonal workers. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has reported a "lack of clarity about who is holding farmers and scheme operators accountable."

The Migration Advisory Committee and House of Lords Horticulture Sector Committee are both conducting inquiries into the Seasonal Worker scheme, including the treatment of workers.

The government's policy is to reduce reliance on overseas workers.

The government aims for farmers to gradually replace overseas workers with domestic labour and machines. A review of automation in horticulture has recommended that the Seasonal Worker scheme continue to play a significant role until technology such as robot crop pickers becomes widely available.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned an Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain. Its overdue findings will influence decisions regarding the future of the Seasonal Worker scheme beyond 2024.

The National Farmers' Union states that reliance on overseas labour "will continue to increase" for the foreseeable future. Farming industry representatives, including the NFU, want the Seasonal Worker scheme to be guaranteed five years in advance and for visas to last nine months instead of six.

Noting the continued need for workers have a look at our website today to see how we can assist you in securing a Seasonal Worker Visa Seasonal Worker visa (Temporary Work) - UK Visas

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