In a move that has sparked debate within the ruling Conservative party, the UK government has pledged to award 45,000 visas for seasonal workers in the agricultural sector next year. This decision comes despite calls to cut immigration from some party members. Net migration, which experienced a decline during the pandemic, has been steadily rising and is expected to reach a record high this year, according to reports from British media. Official figures regarding migration are anticipated to be released later this month.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, known for her hardline stance on immigration, argued at a conference in London on Monday that Britain should focus on training its own lorry drivers and fruit pickers rather than relying on immigration. However, Downing Street defended the decision to grant the visas, stating that the current rules provide flexibility to adapt the system based on the needs of the UK. They also highlighted the historically low unemployment rate in the country.
The announcement of the visa allocation coincides with a new set of measures designed to support the farming industry. British farmers have been grappling with soaring costs, exacerbated by the disruption of supply chains due to the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine, which has led to increased prices of fertilizers, feed, fuel, and energy. Furthermore, the stricter immigration rules resulting from Brexit, which ended free movement within EU member states, have made it more challenging for the agricultural sector to hire workers from the bloc, upon which they have traditionally relied. Imported products also pose a competitive challenge for the industry.
In anticipation of the UK Farm to Fork Summit hosted by Downing Street, the government has declared its commitment to providing farmers with greater protections in future trade deals and prioritizing new export opportunities. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his recognition of the importance of British farming and produce, emphasizing that they should not be treated as an afterthought.
Last February, the government announced the availability of over £168 million (193 million euros) in grants for farmers this year. The funding aims to drive the development of new technologies and innovative farming methods, supporting the growth and advancement of the sector.
As the debate over immigration continues within the Conservative party, the government’s decision to grant visas for seasonal agricultural workers reflects its recognition of the needs and challenges faced by the farming industry. It remains to be seen how this policy will impact the sector and the wider immigration discourse in the UK.