Farming industry gets to grips with the new immigration rules

Farmers and others in the food supply chain who recruit workers from outside the UK need to know the features of the new immigration system - and put the note-0preparations in place for changes which will take place in less than a month’s time.

The warning came as a number of new immigration routes which will form part of the UK government’s new points-based system were unveiled this week to fruit, veg, dairy and other farmers who often see such workers form a key part of their labour force.

UK Home Office Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster MP, highlighted some of the changes and the additional methods at a webinar hosted jointly by NFU Scotland and the Home Office which focused on the post-Brexit immigration requirements which come into force next month.

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NFUS said that an extensive consultation carried out with its members since the Brexit referendum in 2016 had made it plain that there was a significant number of non-UK citizens working in highly skilled, permanent positions on dairy, arable, livestock, pigs, egg and poultry units, as well as the wider food and drinks processing sector.

However, following the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1, the new Skilled Worker route would be the primary channel through which agricultural businesses would be able to recruit international workers into these permanent positions on Scottish farms.

The union’s parliamentary affairs manager, Clare Slipper said that employers would also be required to become licensed sponsors to bring workers in from overseas – and the minister outlined the features of the new system and the simplifications that had been made to the sponsorship and visa processes.

“These are major changes with implications for overseas recruitment. All employers will need to put preparatory measures in place if they plan to recruit from outside the UK after the end of the transition period,” warned Slipper.

And she said that the farming, food and drink sectors should prepare for the significant changes on immigration which were now speeding down the track.

“It was hugely beneficial to have such a high-profile panel provide guidance to more than 70 members on what measures they should put in place if planning to permanently employ non-UK workers in the future.

Slipper said that as the seminar had coincided with the launch of various immigration routes under the UK’s new points-based system.

Those participating had been able to listen to and question government ministers while familiarising themselves with major changes which would impact upon employment practices across all sectors.

“Given our high-value soft fruit, field vegetable and ornamentals sector, the webinar also provided a platform to restate the importance of a seasonal workforce coming from outside the UK to complement the permanent workforce,” said Slipper.

She added that the vital importance of a prompt decision on a Seasonal Workers Scheme to allow planning to take place had also been pressed home to the Home Office.