The government has confirmed that 45,000 visas will be made available again to the horticulture sector next year – enabling growers to plan ahead for harvest and overcome a shortage of workers.
The announcement was made ahead of last month’s Farm to Fork summit at 10 Downing Street. Hosted by Rishi Sunak, the summit brought together representatives from across UK’s farming, horticulture and agri-food sectors.
The summit looked at ways the government and industry can work together to increase investment, innovation and sustainability and support the long-term resilience at every stage of the food supply chain.
Speaking before the event, the Prime Minister pledged: “Supporting our farmers and food producers must, and always will be, at the heart of our plans to grow the economy and build a more prosperous country.
The NFU has been lobbying government on the issue for a number of years reinforcing the urgency around the supply of seasonal workers and the pressing need for government commitment to the sector.
An NFU survey of union members carried out during 2022 revealed that £22 million worth of fruit and vegetables had been wasted directly because of workforce shortages in the first half of 2022 alone.
Last December, Defra confirmed that 45,000 visas for seasonal workers will be available for horticultural businesses in 2023, as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme (SAWS) with potential to increase this by another 10,000 if necessary.
The decision came following a letter the NFU sent to the immigration minister in November 2022 which included signatures from 160 members, expressing concern about the lack of visas for seasonal workers in the future.
The government has since updated its seasonal worker scheme guidance to include a provision which allows returnee workers from 2022 to come back a month sooner than would have been allowed in 2023.
Workers can now return to the UK after five months, rather than waiting the full six months from the end of their 2022 visa. The NFU said the move would help ease the shortage of available workers from overseas caused by the war in Ukraine.
NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “While this is only a modest change, it is an important one that will help growers this season and add further weight to our discussions over the length of visas within the scheme.”