The British government has announced 45,000 new visas for seasonal workers for horticultural businesses next year. According to Defra officials, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker visa expansion would allow businesses to recruit foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months. This is an uplift of 15,000 compared to what was available to farming businesses at the start of this year.
Defra said this number would be kept under review with the potential to increase by a further 10,000 if necessary. The first 4,000 visas will be made available to operators next week, the department added.
Defra's farming minister, Mark Spencer, said the government had now 'listened to the UK's horticulture sector': "Today's announcement will provide our growers with the labor they need to bring in the harvest and continue to put their produce on our tables."
NFU reaction: Better late than never
NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair Martin Emmett reflects on the announcement: "It took until Christmas Eve before we knew how many seasonal worker visas would be available in both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, and we were reassured we wouldn't have to wait that long again. But here we are, with Christmas so nearly upon us that it felt like the recent labor announcement should have been wrapped in festive paper and ribbon."
"Admittedly, this year is not quite the same situation as the last couple. Firstly, we already knew the scheme would exist until at least the 2024 season, whereas in the past, we were battling to get that clarity from one year to the next. And we knew that we'd have at least 30,000 visas in 2023 because a three-year program had already been laid out."
"Where the frustration matches previous years, however, is that we all knew 30,000 would not be enough and the scheme would have to increase beyond what had previously been announced. … A scheme of 45,000 with a potential to rise to 55,000 is a significant stride forward."
"We will monitor the situation very closely to ensure shortages are not holding our members back."