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DEFRA announces the Seasonal Workers visa scheme is to be extended to end 2024

The Seasonal Workers visa scheme which allows horticultural workers to come to the UK for 6 months at a time will be extended until the end of 2024.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs has confirmed there will be 30,000 visas available for overseas workers in 2022, with the possibility to extend this by a further 10,000 if demand requires.

The scheme has been extended to include ornamental horticulture to support the UK flower market.

The government has demanded a plan from the sector to cut the reliance on foreign labour and hopes the sector will be compelled to make improvements in pay and working conditions to encourage British nationals and people with settled status in the UK to take up jobs in the sector. The sector is being pressed to do more to attract UK workers through offering training, career options and better wages, and to invest in more automation technology to reduce the demand for low skilled workers. DEFRA will also be progressing the some of the recommendations in the Automation Review.

Therefore, the Home Office will taper off the scheme in 2023 and 2024, reducing the numbers of visas available each year, to account for this focus on British workers and automation.

The extension of the scheme will be welcome news to employers in the edible and ornamental horticulture industries, as they will be in a better position to cope with the current worker shortages the sector is facing with continued access to overseas labour. This should help to reduce supply chain issues and help to stabilise the production and supply to fruit and vegetables to supermarkets, restaurants and other businesses.

This is however only a short-term solution with the industry being told to focus on creating a recruitment pipeline from the domestic workforce to fill labour gaps when the scheme ends in 2024.

Employers may wish to start considering whether their businesses would benefit from hiring migrant workers for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons. Employers could consider contacting one of the schemes four licensed sponsors, Fruitful Jobs, AG Recruitment and Management Ltd, Concordia Ltd and Pro-Force Ltd who are the current operators of the extended scheme.

Freeths LLP can provide further advice on this scheme, work visas, or any other immigration matters as required. Please contact Emma Brooksbank.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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