This article aims to answer some questions about UK farm employers’ access to seasonal workers under the Government’s extended Seasonal Workers Pilot. The end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 marks the end of freedom of movement between the EU and the UK, making a fully-functioning seasonal worker scheme even more vital to our farmers and growers than before.
What changes has the Government made to the seasonal worker's scheme?
The Seasonal Workers Pilot, in place since 2019, has been extended and expanded for 2021 with 30,000 visas available for those coming to work on UK farms for a period of up to six months. The Government had previously said that the pilot would conclude at the end of 2020, with a decision on whether it would continue under the new points-based immigration system being made before the end of 2020.
Under the extended scheme, four operators will now be permitted to source and sponsor entry, up from two in previous years. However, operators are not permitted to source workers for their own use, a continuing restriction which will prevent large horticultural businesses from securing labour in-house under the scheme.
Can I bring in EU workers under the scheme?
When the original seasonal workers pilot was launched in 2019 there was no restriction on EU workers coming to the UK to work. The pilot was available to non-EU workers only, and operators were recruited from e.g. Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Russia.
We have not had express confirmation from the Government that EU workers can be brought in under this year’s extended pilot. But given that workers will come in under the T5 temporary worker visa route of the UK’s immigration system, it is difficult to see that EU workers can be excluded from the scheme. From 1 January EU-UK's freedom of movement has ended and EU workers will have the same status as non-EU workers unless, of course, they have settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or indefinite leave to remain.
Can I bring in workers to pick flowers?
The scheme is limited to edible horticulture. Defra has said that the scope of the scheme may be revised in the future.
Can I plan my future workforce using the scheme?
Being honest, not really. This scheme still has ‘pilot’ status, but one of its objectives is to gather information to inform a possible approach for seasonal labour for 2022 and beyond. Farming organisations like the NFU will be lobbying to see the scheme embedded as a permanent scheme, and with higher numbers of visas available. But the Government’s stance is that the farming sector should be doing more to transition to automation on farms and to make greater use of ‘domestic’ UK workers.