The Home Office and Defra announced the Seasonal Worker visa route will be extended until the end of 2024, which allows foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months to work in the horticulture sector.
HTA director of policy and communications James Clark said: “The recognition and inclusion of ornamental into the seasonal workers scheme is really positive news, as is the certainty of a three year period for the scheme to run. I’m pleased that government have heard our calls for this change. Our research showed that a 3,000 increase in numbers just for the ornamental sector was needed and while the reference to a potential 10,000 extra for the whole scheme is encouraging, it is still uncertain and the details on what evidence is required to initiate this extra number, is unknown. We need that clarity as soon as possible from government. Without this it means that ornamental growers will be competing with edible growers for this much-needed labour, pushing up costs and making it difficult to properly plan for their businesses.
"We will re-engage with government in the new year, not least to make the case for our tree producer members – the current six month visa scheme hasn’t been amended and will likely disadvantage these growers. We also need to see more detail on what the government are considering around pay levels for seasonal workers and the potential impact this will have. Progress early in the new year on this specific information is crucial to allow the UK’s £1.6bn ornamental production sector to be competitive, develop and grow.”
NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “This is positive news for the thousands of fruit, veg and flower growers that rely on essential seasonal workers to help pick, pack and grade our iconic fresh produce. These growers will be extremely relieved to have clarity over the future of the scheme for the next three years.
“We have worked very closely with ministers and officials to secure the additional visas and the inclusion of ornamentals, which is something we have been calling for and is desperately needed for flower and plant growers across the country.
“With labour shortages so rife across the entire food supply chain, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to engage with the government on the sector’s needs.”
NFU Scotland's Martin Kennedy said there had been a shortfall of labour of around 20% in 2021 and indications are Scotland will produce less fruit and veg in 2021 with the announcement of 30,000 visas not improving that.
A survey of fruit and vegetable members in September 2021 found one Scottish fruit and veg business that had offered 100 contracts of employment to UK applicants; six were accepted and only three turned up to work. Retention rate for EU and other migrant workers was over 80%, the retention rate for UK workers was 32%.