Despite tougher immigration rules, the United Kingdom government has pledged to award 45,000 visas for seasonal workers in the agricultural sector in 2024. This is coming amid calls from within the ruling Conservative Party, to cut immigration. According to the British media, the announcement of the visas allocation comes alongside a new package of measures to support the farming industry. This flexibility may not be unconnected with the UK need in the agriculture sector for more hands to ensure food security. After a drop during the pandemic, net migration has been steadily on the rise and is expected to hit a record high in 2023, although official figures are yet to be out.
The British Home Secretary, Suella Braverman said, at a conference in London that, there was “no good reason” that Britain cannot train its own lorry drivers and fruit pickers to drive down immigration. But the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak defended the decision to grant the visas again. He said in an open letter to British farmers; “British farming and British produce simply cannot be an afterthought. I know that is how some of you felt in the past”. British farmers have grappled with soaring costs with the pandemic’s disruption of supply chains and the war in Ukraine driving up the price of fertilizer, feed, fuel and energy. Tougher immigration rules following Brexit, which ended free movement within European Union member states, have made it harder to hire workers from the bloc, which British agriculture has traditionally relied upon.
The industry is also facing competition from imported products. In response to the farmers’ demands, the premier told the ‘UK Farm to Fork Summit’ that ministers had rolled over to next year, a seasonal workers programme that allows for 45,000 temporary labourers to enter the country for horticulture and poultry. Sunak also vowed that the government would not lower standards in its pursuit of trade agreements. He detailed two concerns that had frequently been voiced when discussing a potential deal with the United States, saying “No chlorine-washed chicken. No hormone-treated beef. Not now. Not ever”. It would be recalled that the UK government, last February, announced that more than £168 million (193 million Euros) in grants would be available to farmers this year to “drive the development of new technology and innovative ways of farming”.