Leaked Labour policy discussion document suggests party could enable seasonal migration

An incoming Labour government could activate the "third tier" of the UK's visa regime, allowing low skilled and seasonal migrants access to the UK labour market, according to a policy discussion document leaked to two national newspapers.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party manifesto launch last month - image: Sophie Brown (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party manifesto launch last month - image: Sophie Brown (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The five-page document, written by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's immigration policy advisor Lachlan Stuart, details plans to implement the third tier of the five-tier, points-based immigration system introduced by the last Labour government.

It states: "We envisage a requirement to make continued use of the current five-tiered visa system, including the currently unused tier applicable to those seeking low-skilled, unskilled or seasonal work." Neither Labour nor Conservative governments have so far considered it necessary to use the third tier.

The paper also sets out plans for a "green card" scheme for naturalising existing EU nationals in the UK and says that cutting the overall number of people moving to Britain will not be a priority for a Corbyn-led government. Corbyn himself said on a TV debate on Monday that he would "not put a figure" on the likely number of migrants coming to the UK under his premiership.

A Labour spokesperson said: "As part of our work in exploring the options, a number of discussion papers have been produced. This is part of one such document. It is not a statement of Labour policy, which is set out in our manifesto." The party's manifesto says simply that it will put "growth, jobs and prosperity" ahead of "bogus immigration targets".

In April, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published its report into labour issues in the agriculture industry. The report points out that the "wide variety of witnesses representing various agricultural and horticultural employers" who had given evidence to the committee "were unanimous in reporting that their businesses had long struggled to find sufficient labour to meet their needs, either from UK or overseas sources", and that they "considered that these problems had worsened since June 2016 following the UK's decision to leave the EU".

It notes that "no accurate figures exist of exactly how many seasonal workers are migrants to the UK", although "a best guess estimate is that there are around 75,000 temporary migrant workers employed in UK agriculture and horticulture".

The NFU, in its submission, said the sector currently needs 80,000 seasonal workers, rising to 95,000 by 2021. "As a result, even before the UK's vote to leave the EU, the sector was still keen for the Government to take action to increase the supply of seasonal workers," it said.

But it added: "The sector's shortfall in temporary labour has been exacerbated by recent events and foreign labour is proving harder to source. Many reasons were posited for this, including changes in the value of sterling, increased living standards in Eastern Europe, uncertainty created by Brexit, the desirability of work in other growth sectors and a feeling among foreign workers of 'not being welcome'."

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