Immigration report recommends reintroduction of seasonal worker scheme

A new report on immigration has recommended the reintroduction of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) after 2010.

The report, carried out by the voluntary organisation Migrationwatch UK, was commissioned by a Parliamentary interest group named the Cross-party Group on Balanced Migration in response to public concerns over Britain's rising population levels.

It argued the case for balanced migration - whereby the number of immigrants allowed to settle in the UK permanently is capped in line with the number of British citizens who emigrate.

The report also took into account the difficulties facing the horticulture industry as a result of the phasing out of SAWS by 2010.

It acknowledged that, as long as measures were put in place to ensure that the workers did not stay in the UK after their contracts, SAWS could be reintroduced.

It said: "If it proved necessary, a renewal of SAWS could be considered, but it would be essential to ensure that foreign workers left at the end of their contracts."

It added: "A highly conditional seasonal worker scheme on these lines would meet the needs of the employer without adding to long-term immigration. The successful implementation of SAWS for over 50 years suggests that suitable arrangements should be possible.

"Meanwhile, Britain has over five million people on benefits. We should explore modifications to the benefit rules to encourage some of these people to do this work. This would help them financially - as well as beginning to end their dependency on the welfare state."

The NFU's chief horticultural adviser, Phil Hudson, told Grower that these comments were made after a meeting the NFU had with the co-chairmen of the cross-party group, Frank Field MP and Nicholas Soames MP.

He said: "This report (is) going to be considered carefully by the Government, which is good as there's a lot of evidence to support what the industry has been saying."

Many growers have this year voiced concerns over the phasing out of SAWS after seeing their crops go to waste.

They have struggled to find reliable pickers from outside SAWS, because immigrants from countries such as Poland have been shunning seasonal horticultural work in favour of jobs with more long-term prospects.

This year the Government restricted SAWS from 25,000 to 16,250 workers, from Romania and Bulgaria only.

The Government's phasing out of the scheme was prompted by the increase in immigration seen when the A8 countries, including Poland, joined the European Union.

MIGRATION REPORT

The publication of the cross-party group's report coincides with the publication of an independent report by the University of Liverpool for the Government's migration advisory committee, on staff shortages and immigration in agriculture. The report, due to be released as Grower went to press, was expected to emphasise the importance of seasonal migrant labour.


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