To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of whether the 30,000 visas available under the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme will meet the labour needs of the agricultural sector.
17 June 2022
Defra continues to speak regularly with the agriculture sector and other government departments to understand labour supply and demand, including for both permanent and seasonal workforce requirements, and to ensure there is a long-term strategy for the farming workforce.
Whilst numbers vary year on year, we estimate approximately 50,000 - 60,000 seasonal workers are needed annually across the horticulture sector to bring in the harvest. Defra statistics from the Annual June survey of Agriculture and Horticulture provide seasonal, casual and gang labour workforce numbers for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland at 57,000 in 2020.
The need for seasonal labour is met through various sources, primarily migrant labour and EU citizens with settled status. Over 5.8 million EU citizens and their families have been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
The Seasonal Worker visa scheme, which has been extended to 2024, allows overseas workers to come to the UK for up to six months to harvest both edible and ornamental crops. 30,000 visas will be available in 2022, and this was being kept under review with the potential to increase by 10,000 visas if there was evidence of need.
The recently announced Food Strategy White Paper will also seek to address challenges faced by the sector, including through an independent review to tackle labour shortages in the food supply chain, considering the roles of automation, domestic labour and migration routes. To support the sector, the Government will also release 10,000 visas for the seasonal worker visa route, with 2,000 of these going to the poultry sector.
On 24 February the Government announced that all Ukrainian nationals on an existing seasonal worker visa will have their leave in the UK extended to 31 December 2022 and can now switch to the Ukraine Extension Scheme visa if eligible.