The Countryside Alliance has written to Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, to warn that the Government’s proposals for immigration policy outside the EU create a “very real risk” of labour shortages in the rural economy.
The warning was issued in response to the Government’s White Paper on immigration which was published at the end of the last year, and the Home Office has begun a 12-month period of consultation with interested groups on the proposals.
The White Paper is focused on high skilled migration, but the Countryside Alliance has highlighted the need in rural areas for low skilled workers, particularly at important times of the year, in part thanks to low unemployment figures across the country.
The White Paper sets out a route for short-term low skilled workers, but this route will be subject to “tightly defined conditions” and the Government will set “restrictions on nationalities, duration and possibly numbers.” This route is also only intended to be a transitional measure to enable employers to “change their ways of working”, but the Countryside Alliance has stressed that for many rural businesses, reliance upon low skilled workers cannot be avoided, at least in the short to medium term future.
The Countryside Alliance has called for the reintroduction of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, or equivalent scheme, to allow farmers and rural businesses to access labour from abroad after the UK leaves the EU. The Government has announced plans for a pilot scheme, to commence in April this year, but this will only allow 2,500 workers to enter the UK from outside the EU. The UK requires approximately 80,000 seasonal agricultural workers every year and the Office for National Statistics has stated that 99 per cent of these workers come from countries within the EU.
Countryside Alliance Political Relations Manager, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: “We welcome the opportunity to establish an immigration system based on the needs and interest of our country, but rural areas must not be overlooked in this process. The proposals set out in the White Paper make it even more important that the Government introduces a seasonal agricultural workers scheme. There is no certainty about access to the EU labour market for low skill workers and the Government must recognise the particular needs of farming and rural employers to ensure that a living a working countryside can be sustained outside the EU. The Government must make sure its proposals are rural proofed.”