Earlier this month, the UK Government announced the end of free movement and the introduction of an Immigration Bill to bring in a points based system designed to cater for highly skilled workers.
Under the new proposals, points will be awarded for a suitable job offer, being able to speak the English language and a salary threshold. The government accepted the Migration Advisory Committee's (MAC) recommendation to lower the salary threshold from 30,000 to 25,600 pounds; with some flexibility for those wishing to take up work in a profession where there is a skills shortage . The salary threshold for the latter has been set at 20,480 pounds. Applicants will also be able to trade characteristics, such as qualifications, against a salary lower than the threshold.
Initiatives are being developed for sectors such as agriculture, however there remains a concern that the current system could result in higher labour costs; particularly for seasonal workers who work long hours and play a vital role in horticulture businesses. Where the points based system leads to a shortage of workers in the processing sector it is likely that throughput will be slowed, reducing efficiency and indirectly forcing farmers to keep stock for longer, increasing costs and bringing potential welfare issues.
The UK Government confirmed that the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Pilot for 2020 would allow for 10,000 pickers to enter the UK for harvest, although Defra Secretary George Eustice requested at least 20,000 spaces.
The FUW have continuously expressed concerns over the potential for post-Brexit labour shortages throughout the agricultural industry and it is essential that future migration policies do not place additional costs upon a sector which already suffers from low profitability and tight margins.