Skilled and temporary migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland will be stopped at the border if the businesses that intend to employ them fail to get a sponsor licence from the Border Agency in time. The new points-based system will make it more difficult to employ workers from outside the EU as the Government seeks to phase out previous routes to entry for low-skilled workers. But it comes as the NFU claims labour shortages have cost the UK fresh produce industry at least £13m in lost revenue so far this year.
The union claims restrictions on migrant workers this summer meant producers were unable to source enough seasonal labour to pick crops. Fears are mounting that the new system, coupled with the phasing out of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme in 2010 that accompanies it, will damage industry competitiveness.
Key to the new regulations is the Migration Advisory Committee’s edict on what occupations face a short supply of workers. It said only a few food industry job categories were in short supply: manual filleters of frozen fish, and machine-trained operatives and quality controllers in the fish-processing industry. Did I mention this was also only in Scotland? As for agriculture, apparently there is only a shortage of sheep shearers.
“Employers needing other jobs skills are going to have to look for EEA workers or meet the new Resident Labour Market test, that is advertise for EEA workers and show none are available,” says employment lawyer Scott James of Faegre & Benson. Those at the sharp end believe there are shortages in many areas – the Meat Processors Association is one to express disappointment that boning and trimming was not included. But the onus is on such organisations to prove their case.
In the meantime, businesses that want to bring in or renew the immigration status of migrant workers from outside the EU have to demonstrate they are able to track, monitor and report on their migrant worker population to get a licence. Migrant workers need to demonstrate they have enough points to qualify for the immigration category for which they are applying.
The result, goes the thinking, will be that skill sets can be matched with any industries facing a shortfall. And perhaps the food sector will be less inclined to turn outside the UK to meet its employment requirements.
Siân Harrington is editor of Human Resources.