U.K. Proposes Seasonal Worker Trial for Non-EU Farm Laborers

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will trial a seasonal workers program for fruit and vegetable pickers from outside the European Union next year, the Home Office said, in an attempt to alleviate possible labor shortages faced by one of the industries most affected by Brexit.

An annual 2,500 workers over the age of 18 will be granted six-month visas to come to Britain from next spring to work on fruit and vegetable farms, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Thursday in a statement. The program will run through December 2020, to alleviate labor shortages during peak production, they said.

“We have listened to the powerful arguments from farmers about the need for seasonal labor to keep the horticulture industry productive and profitable,” Gove said. “From lettuce in East Anglia to strawberries in Scotland, we want to make sure that farmers can continue to grow, sell and export.”

Bloomberg Economics: Brexit Talks End Game to Shape U.K. Economy’s Fate

Ministers are grappling with how to cut net immigration to a pledged “tens of thousands” a year from current levels of 271,000 while ensuring British industry has access to the workers -- both skilled and unskilled -- that it needs. Farmers are particularly vulnerable to a dropoff in immigration, reliant as they are on an annual supply of seasonal workers, which they can currently get from within the EU without negotiating any bureaucratic hurdles.

“I am committed to having an immigration system that reduces migration to sustainable levels, supports all industry and ensures we welcome those who benefit Britain,” said Javid.

The trial aims to overcome labor shortages that some farmers are already feeling as a result of Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union, threatening an industry worth 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion). The drop in the pound and the perception that they’re not welcome has deterred some EU seasonal workers from coming to Britain, leading to warnings of crops rotting in fields, because British workers won’t do the job. The British Growers industry group has warned that access to labor could have a “massive impact” on the industry and could lead to production moving abroad.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.