Government announces the introduction of new short-term visas
As queues at petrol pumps show little sign of easing and with a lack of turkey farmers potentially ruining Christmas, the Government has announced the introduction of new short-term visas to try and alleviate the issues faced in these industries; but how will these new visas work and will they fix the current recruitment issues blighting the UK economy?
As has been well documented across the media, the UK is currently in the midst of a severe labour shortage across a number of industries (including the likes of drivers and those in the poultry farm, social care, hospitality, veterinary, IT, and hospitality industries). Industry bodies have emphasised the extent of the shortage. As an example, the National Pig Association has stated that a lack of slaughterhouse workers could see up to 100,000 pigs killed and burned as there are not enough workers to process the meat. The Road Haulage Association believes Britain needs around 100,000 new lorry drivers and there are reports of hoteliers having to limit the number of bookable rooms due to a lack of housekeeping staff.
The Confederation of British Industry has rather worryingly stated that this labour shortage could potentially last up to two years, due to the time it will take for businesses to train enough people to eliminate the shortage.
How much of an issue is the current immigration system?
The current labour shortage is, at least in part, due to issues caused by the lack of labour flowing from the EU after Brexit and the new sponsorship requirements applying to non-UK nationals who want to come to the UK for work. Put simply, the European labour tap has been abruptly turned off.
Sponsored roles are subject to minimum salary thresholds and a minimum required skill level being met. The use of the Standard Occupational Classification Codes to sort jobs according to the level of academic achievement required to do them, means that jobs traditionally considered ‘lower-skilled’ are often ineligible for sponsorship even though in reality they do often still require extensive training and, as a result, vacancies cannot be filled at short notice. These types of jobs would appear to account for a large number of the roles which are currently facing a labour shortage and are often central to the smooth running of everyday life in the UK, as we have seen by the recent chaos caused at petrol stations.
The Government has over the last few years appeared to be focusing mainly on highly-skilled migrants. See, for example, its recent announcements about a new High Potential route (signalling a potential break away from the sponsorship system), However, at least insofar as immigration is concerned, the recent shortage of lower-skilled labour seems to have caught the Government unprepared. So will the new visa routes change things?
How might the new visas work?
In a press release, the Home Office has suggested that 5,000 new visas for food and fuel HGV drivers and 5,500 visas for poultry workers will be made available via the Temporary Workers route from October 2021 and will be valid until 24 December 2021.
The Temporary Worker route is an existing framework, which is currently limited to agricultural workers in the ‘edible horticulture’ sector. The proposed expansion into the HGV drivers and poultry sectors will require a change to the Immigration Rules at short notice. As is the case with the existing seasonal workers visas, these new visas cannot be sponsored by employers directly, and instead recruitment would be carried out by an approved scheme operator.
Will the new visas fix the current labour shortage issues?
In theory, the new short term visas should help to alleviate some of the current labour shortage issues being faced by industries reliant on HGV drivers and poultry workers, by allowing for an influx of immediately available, ready-trained, and experienced migrants. However, worries will remain that the measures do not go far enough to tackle the wider issues. There will be concerns over the scope of the new visas, as HGV drivers and poultry workers only assist a fraction of the industries currently facing labour shortages. The Government has recently stated that it will not be introducing new, similar visas for other industries facing the same issues. Furthermore, it is of course difficult to see three months being sufficient time to adequately train enough UK-based workers to take over, once the new visas expire. We may be back to jostling for position at petrol pump queues in the new year!