The government acted on two fronts on Friday to alleviate labor market shortages, allowing thousands of overseas agricultural and social workers to fill gaps created by a shortage of British staff.
In two announcements that slipped on Christmas Eve, ministers said British fruit and vegetable growers would be able to hire foreign workers to help bring in the harvest over the next three years, while foreign nursing staff would be allowed to enter the country under a special visa from the start. in 2022.
The Home Office was reluctant to offer exceptions to the strict new immigration rules for low-skilled workers introduced after EU provisions on free movement of people ceased to apply in the UK earlier this year.
The extension of the visa program for seasonal agricultural workers in the UK for another three years followed pressure from farmers who warned that reducing the foreign workforce would reduce domestic food production.
Neil Parish, the conservative chairman of the Lower House Environment Committee, argued this month that Brexit is “destroying” British agriculture and labor shortages are affecting a number of sectors.
The Home Office said on Friday it would allow 30,000 foreign workers to enter the UK for up to six months to harvest 2022, the same number as this year, but with the potential to increase that number by 10,000 if needed.
He added that the program of seasonal agricultural workers, launched in 2019, will be extended for another two years, but with a reduced number from 2023, as ministers seek to force the transition to domestic work and a “highly skilled, high-wage economy.” .
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We are aware that agriculture has unique and seasonal labor requirements in the harvest and we have listened to our world’s leading fresh produce industry to understand their needs.”
Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers Union, said: “This is positive news for thousands of fruit, vegetable and flower growers who rely on basic seasonal workers to help select, package and evaluate our iconic fresh produce.” He added that labor shortages were “present throughout the food supply chain”.
Separately, the Ministry of Health announced that foreign welfare workers would have the right to enter the United Kingdom for at least a year with a health visa and a care visa.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, and the changes we have made to health and health visas will strengthen the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently facing.”
Adult welfare experienced a major labor shortage before the Covid-19 pandemic, and immigration rules after Brexit are expected to have an increasing impact, but the relatively low wage is also a key issue.
This month, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee said welfare workers should be “immediately” added to the list of occupations that give foreign nationals preferential access to the UK.
The government has made it clear that adding care workers to the UK’s list of deficient occupations will be revised once pandemic pressures subside.
Martin Green, executive director of Care England, an industrial body, said he called for a change in the list of scarce occupations “and in the long run this will help with the employment difficulties that are the number one challenge in adult welfare”.
Daisy Cooper, a Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman, said the government’s move was “too little, too late”.
“The poor offer of a one-year visa is unlikely to attract the number of health workers we so desperately need,” she added.
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