There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. As the UK approaches the end of the Brexit transition period, at which point its relationship with Europe will change forever, it is time for the Government to look inwards at the economic impact and the lessons learnt from COVID-19 to reconsider its proposed changes to the UK’s immigration system.
The Conservatives’ leadership election campaign promoted a new “points based system” that they planned would come into force in January 2021. They assured the British public that they would not introduce a route for “low-skilled migrants” (individuals coming to the UK to do a job that does not require A-level standard knowledge), although they would increase the number of Youth Mobility Scheme visas issued from 10,000 to 20,000. The Home Office have been running a pilot seasonal agricultural worker scheme which would allow 10,000 migrant workers to come to the UK to work on farms. But are these policies suitable for a post-COVID-19 world?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an immediate outcry from farmers who rely on seasonal workers to ensure that all of their crops are harvested. In fact, the UK rely on nearly 80,000 seasonal agricultural workers to come to the UK each year and work on the harvest, 99% of whom come to the UK from Europe. The worry of the farmers was that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, seasonal agricultural workers may be unable or unwilling to travel to the UK to work. This sparked a national campaign to recruit local workers. With millions of British nationals currently on the Government’s furlough scheme and not currently working, the labour force is definitely available in the UK. However, the work requires skill and it appears that few British nationals have applied for the available jobs.
The Government now need to look at the figures. They need to consider whether their policy of restricting ‘low-skilled migrants’ entering the UK in a post-Brexit world is still suitable. It was previously thought that local British workers would take up such jobs if given the opportunity. However, even when millions of people are not working, the farming industry seems incapable of recruiting local workers. It is clear that this is a profession that will continue to rely on migrant workers, and the UK needs to be more accommodating to them.
Even if all 20,000 workers who came to the UK on the Youth Mobility Scheme worked as seasonal agricultural workers (which would be unlikely), and the Home Office granted all 10,000 seasonal agricultural worker visas, there would still be less than 50% of the workforce required to maintain the industry. The Government urgently need to reconsider their approach before the same issues we have seen this year repeat themselves in 2021.
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Trainee solicitor in our Corporate Team