We've been in conversation with Defra and the Home Office since the mid-June announcement as part of the publication of the Government Food Strategy, in which the government allocated 2,000 visas for seasonal poultry businesses.
We have been working to help determine the much-needed scheme details to help members best utilise the visas and access the labour they so desperately require.
On 5 July, Defra and the Home Office hosted an online meeting and opened the invitation to poultry businesses which may be interested in using the visa scheme. NFU chief poultry adviser Aimee Mahony attended the meeting alongside NFU members.
A virtual member meeting was held on Friday 16 September to share further details of the visa scheme and provided a chance for members to ask the labour providers who will be operating the scheme any questions.
On this page we're sharing the key information we've learned for those interested in the scheme.
Key NFU work on behalf of the poultry sector
Since the Temporary Visa Scheme for poultry was announced in 2021, the NFU has been providing evidence to the government and asking for a suitable dedicated scheme for the poultry sector for 2022 and beyond.
The significant costs, late announcement, and inexperience of some of the labour providers created barriers to uptake of the scheme in 2021. Therefore we had four main asks moving forwards:
- A dedicated scheme for the poultry sector should be made available for 2022 and beyond to give businesses the certainty they need to invest and produce seasonal poultry.
- The costs associated with recruiting workers via the seasonal worker visa route should be manageable and not outprice smaller businesses who need access to labour.
- The scheme needs to be announced and applications opened in a timely manner to allow businesses to plan ahead.
- If labour providers are to be appointed to administer the scheme, then they should be operators with experience in recruiting for the poultry sector to help maximise uptake of the scheme.
So far this year we have been told that:
- there is a commitment for 2,000 visas each year until 2024
- the costs associated with the scheme will be lower going forwards
- the announcement of visa availability has been made three months earlier compared to 2021
- a tendering process for two poultry-specific labour providers has now completed.
These are all positive steps, which we have welcomed. We are now poised on behalf of the industry to help the government open the scheme for applications as soon as possible to maximise the opportunity for uptake.
Number of visas available: The number of visas is confirmed at 2,000 for the seasonal poultry sector each year for the next three years. The NFU will continue to gather and submit evidence to show a need for further visas where appropriate. Defra and the Home Office have agreed to monitor and review the need for visas from the sector and will make any decisions based on sufficient evidence.
Timeframe: Our understanding is that visas will start to be issues from the 18 October 022 and the deadline for applications will be the 15 November 2022. Workers will be permitted to stay in the UK until 31 December 2022.
Salaries and hours: The visa scheme must not undermine the skilled worker route and so there will be a minimum salary set at £10.10 per hour for roles classified as ‘unskilled’ and a pro rata hourly rate for ‘skilled’ roles. There will also be a minimum number of hours that must be offered to each worker and further information from the government should be made available on this shortly.
What happens next?
We will continue our close dialogue with government officials as the scheme is rolled out and have asked Defra to keep the industry/government working group informed on any updates and the roll out of the scheme. NFU members who sit on the working group represent all scales and sizes of seasonal poultry businesses and they will continue raising the key issues that are affecting our members in relation to the launch of the seasonal worker visas for the poultry sector.
The visa route will run from 2022 to 2024 and will allow up to 2,000 visas for temporary migrants to work in the UK poultry sector.
While it is disappointing that the RFI process was not started sooner it is encouraging to hear from Defra that it only needs to take place this year and so will help provide much needed clarity for the following two years.
An operator is an organisation that has a licence to sponsor migrants for temporary work in the UK through this visa route.
The government has concluded that the appropriate number of operators for the visa route is two for the poultry sector. These operators will manage the recruitment of seasonal workers through this visa route.
They will be responsible for 1,000 visas each. They will have a mandate from the government to distribute them equitably between the businesses requiring access to workers via the visa scheme.