Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Robin Swann MLA has welcomed the announcement of a new pilot scheme which will see up to 2,500 workers from outside the EU come to the UK for up to six months after Brexit in order to work in the horticultural industry.
Mr Swann (pictured)said: “Whilst I still believe there could be major opportunities with Brexit, one of the big concerns I still have – and one that I am hearing regularly from the key players locally – is whether the agricultural industry will have sufficient access to EU migrant labour after Brexit.
“Many parts of the local sector are all heavily dependent on EU workers. A shortage of labour, especially at key seasonal times of the year such as harvest, could paralyse some local farmers and businesses.
“The announcement from the UK government therefore that British fruit and vegetable farmers will be able to recruit up to 2,500 non-European Union migrants on temporary visas after Brexit is therefore very welcome.
“The new pilot scheme will run during the planned two-year transition period after Britain’s March 2019 EU exit from next spring up until the end of December 2020.
“Whilst this is a major step in the right direction, and will undoubtedly ease some of the worries of local growers, I still remain concerned that in the grand scale of things 2,500 visas over two years across the entirety of the UK is a relatively small gesture.
“This is especially the case when we consider that whilst an estimated 27,000 permanent staff from elsewhere in the EU worked directly in British agriculture in 2016, the figure was often increased at times by up to 75,000 seasonal workers. A further 116,000 EU nationals worked in the UK’s food manufacturing sector.
“Nonetheless this is a welcome first step and I would now urge the UK government to keep up this momentum by taking the required steps to assure businesses that they will continue to have access to sufficient labour in the months and years after the transition period ends.”