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Tougher immigration rules put Scotland’s farming sector ‘at risk’

NFUS president Andrew McCornick
NFUS president Andrew McCornick

Scotland’s largest farming union has said it will back calls for Holyrood to be given control over immigration if a UK-wide points-based immigration system is introduced.

The National Farmers Union Scotland says the UK Government proposals announced on Tuesday night will make it difficult for businesses in Scotland’s farming and food sectors to recruit the seasonal and temporary staff they require.

Under the government plans, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) will be expanded to 10,000 places.

But NFUS Scotland says the industry requires around 70,000 seasonal workers across the UK.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the UK Government has disregarded the strong and consistent evidence of NFU Scotland and other businesses in the UK food and drink supply chain about the type of immigration system we need.

NFUS president Andrew McCornick said food and drink is Scotland’s biggest manufacturing sector but warned this will be undermined if access to overseas labour is restricted.

And he said if there is no appropriate system of immigration in the UK, then Scotland should be given the powers to set its own policies.

The Scottish Government announced its own proposals for Scotland-specific work permits last month.

Mr McCornick said: “NFU Scotland has always maintained that a UK-wide approach to immigration would be preferable.

“However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK Government has disregarded the strong and consistent evidence of NFU Scotland and other businesses in the UK food and drink supply chain about the type of immigration system we need to ensure productivity and output.

The soft fruit industry relies on seasons workers to pick fruit.

“The proposals published will not provide sufficient options for non-UK workers to come and work in rural Scotland.

“As such, Scotland-specific work permits in a UK system should be considered as a means to offer businesses in Scotland flexible tools to attract and retain manual skilled individuals within our labour market where automation and recruitment of domestic workers are not available nor viable options.”

Farming industry ‘ignored’

“Whilst a continued scheme for seasonal agricultural workers is welcome, it is a deep disappointment that the UK Government has ignored recommendations from the UK farming industry preferring to believe that an increased allowance of 10,000 will satisfy seasonal needs across the UK.”

Mr McCornick added: “Farming unions across the UK have long maintained that approximately 70,000 seasonal visas are needed after the end of free movement to ensure vacancies in the likes of soft fruit, vegetable and ornamental sectors are filled.”

He added: “On permanent positions for overseas workers, the UK Government has sensibly revised the proposed salary threshold down from £30,000 to £25,600 and floated the idea of individuals in salaries lower than the £25,600 limit being able to work in the UK in occupations that are specified on the Shortage Occupation List.

“Such a move would be largely meaningless to Scottish food and farming unless further agricultural and ancillary occupations are added to the Shortage Occupations List, as requested by NFU Scotland.

“NFU Scotland will lobby strongly for a change in direction although it is regrettable that, despite repeated evidence, the Migration Advisory Committee, does not support such a change.”

The new system is intended to come into force on January 1 2021.

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