Scotland’s food and farming industries will be put at risk by the UK Government’s proposals for migration and the introduction of a points-based system (PBS) as announced last night (18 February).
The Union believes that the proposals will fail to provide enough options for seasonal and permanent non-UK workers to come and work in Scotland’s vibrant food and farming sectors, undermining its contribution to the Scottish and UK economies.
While, under the UK Government proposals, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) will be expanded to 10,000 places, that still falls woefully short of the 70,000 seasonal workers required by farms across the UK.
According to proposals, other routes to ‘low skilled’ migrant workers being employed in Scotland’s food and farming industries will be shut off from 1 January 2021, leaving the sectors little time to prepare.
With food and drink currently Scotland’s largest manufacturing sector, an inability to access sufficient permanent and seasonal staff is a huge concern and will undermine plans for substantial growth by 2030.
Without an appropriate route to accessing migratory labour at a UK level, the Union will further explore the Scottish Government’s proposals to provide Scotland-specific work permits.
Without an appropriate route to accessing migratory labour from a single uniform UK system, the Union believes recognition of different regional requirements across the UK is needed. Scottish Government’s proposals to provide Scotland-specific work permits in a UK system would recognise that.
President Andrew McCornick said
NFU Scotland has always maintained that a UK-wide approach to immigration would be preferable. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK Government has disregarded the strong and consistent evidence of NFU Scotland and other businesses in the UK food and drink supply chain about the type of immigration system we need to ensure productivity and output.
The proposals published will not provide sufficient options for non-UK workers to come and work in rural Scotland. As such, Scotland-specific work permits in a UK system should be considered as a means to offer businesses in Scotland flexible tools to attract and retain manual skilled individuals within our labour market where automation and recruitment of domestic workers are not available nor viable options.
Whilst a continued scheme for seasonal agricultural workers is welcome, it is a deep disappointment that the UK Government has ignored recommendations from the UK farming industry preferring to believe that an increased allowance of 10,000 will satisfy seasonal needs across the UK. Farming unions across the UK have long maintained that approximately 70,000 seasonal visas are needed after the end of free movement to ensure vacancies in the likes of soft fruit, vegetable and ornamental sectors are filled.
On permanent positions for overseas workers, the UK Government has sensibly revised the proposed salary threshold down from £30,000 to £25,600 and floated the idea of individuals in salaries lower than the £25,600 limit being able to work in the UK in occupations that are specified on the Shortage Occupation List.
Such a move would be largely meaningless to Scottish food and farming unless further agricultural and ancillary occupations are added to the Shortage Occupations List, as requested by NFU Scotland. NFU Scotland will lobby strongly for a change in direction although it is regrettable that, despite repeated evidence, the Migration Advisory Committee, does not support such a change.