UFU welcomes new non-EU seasonal workers scheme
The Ulster Farmers Union has welcomed the news that UK farmers will be given the green light to recruit up to 2,500 migrants a year under a new seasonal work scheme.
Non-EU nationals who come to work on fruit and vegetable farms in the UK will be able to stay for six months before returning, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday.
Ministers said the initiative, which will start in spring next year and run until the end of December 2020, will help alleviate labour shortages during peak production periods.
UFU president, Ivor Ferguson has welcomed the news that Northern Ireland will be included in the scheme.
"The shortage of seasonal workers and its likely impact on food production was one of the 10 key goals that we identified immediately after the UK's referendum to withdraw from the EU in 2016," he said.
"This scheme will help to alleviate the considerable pressure some growers are facing when it comes to harvesting vegetable and fruit crops," he said.
"We are pleased that the government has recognised the unique challenges facing the horticulture sector in particular and has taken action to support it.
"We look forward to assisting with the development and implementation of the scheme."
However the UFU president said while the news was positive, serious concerns remain.
"We do however continue to have serious concerns regarding the much more substantial labour issue of access to permanent workers on which Northern Ireland's agri-food processing industry is very heavily dependent and which also needs to be resolved."
Industry bodies estimate that the agriculture sector across the UK relies on a 75,000-strong temporary migrant workforce.
Unveiling the plans yesterday, Mr Javid said: "British farmers are vital to the UK's economy - and the Government will look to support them in any way we can.
"This pilot will ensure farmers have access to the seasonal labour they need to remain productive and profitable during busy times of the year.
"I am committed to having an immigration system that reduces migration to sustainable levels, supports all industry and ensures we welcome those who benefit Britain."
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the UK Government had listened to the "powerful arguments" from farmers about the need for seasonal labour to keep the horticulture industry productive and profitable.
He said: "We will review the pilot's results as we look at how best to support the longer-term needs of industry outside the EU."
Two scheme operators will run the new pilot, overseeing the placement of workers and ensuring they reach their place of employment and leave the UK at the end of their visa.
The Home Office said it would be a tightly controlled regime, with return rates carefully monitored and provisions in place to close the route if it presents a threat to immigration controls.