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HOPS welcomes the news that the Government will quadruple the number of workers farms can recruit on a temporary basis from outside the EU this year to take up seasonal work. But HOPS is also calling for more clarity on the future beyond the pilot scheme.

Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed on 19 February that the expansion of the Seasonal Workers Pilot will allow farmers to hire up to 10,000 workers in 2020 – an increase from the previous 2,500 workers.

HOPS Operations Director Sarah Boparan said: 

“HOPS welcomes the news that the government is expanding the Seasonal Workers Pilot and allowing farmers access to up to 10,000 workers from outside of the EU in 2020. This announcement is positive progress towards a fully-functioning scheme that is fit for purpose for the land-based industry. 

“The boost in numbers will provide businesses with more confidence ahead of this year’s peak production periods and we hope it also paves the way for the introduction of a permanent scheme. UK growers are an asset to the UK economy but they need reassurances that they will continue to have access to a reliable and available workforce in order to invest and thrive.

“HOPS is committed to working with its stakeholders to encourage as many EU workers as possible to apply to the settlement scheme so that recruitment of these valuable European employees can continue post-2020.”   

The government says the increase in non-EU workers will support the UK’s vital horticulture sector and give fruit and vegetable growers access to a much bigger pool of workers this year to help pick and gather even more Great British produce.

Soft fruit production in the UK grew by 185% between 1998 and 2018 – and the government hopes the access to more workers will support farmers over this year’s busy summer harvest, while allowing them to test the pilot further.

 Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“The farmers and growers I’ve spoken to have made a powerful case for needing more workers during the coming busy months.

“Expanding our Seasonal Workers Pilot will help our farms with the labour they need for this summer’s harvest, while allowing us to test our future approach further.

“We will always back our farmers and growers, who produce world-famous British food to some of the highest standards anywhere in the world.”

The Seasonal Workers Pilot opened in 2019 to test the effectiveness of the immigration system at supporting UK growers during peak production periods, whilst maintaining robust immigration control. It will allow farms to hire workers for a period of up to six months and will continue to run until the end of 2020. 

The government has said the expansion will allow it to keep testing how this pilot operates further, while helping to ease some of the pressure felt on farms when they are at their busiest.

Although the numbers are increasing based on the success of the pilot so far, it is not designed to meet the full labour needs of the horticultural sector. This workforce boost aims to complement the EU workers already travelling to the UK this year to provide seasonal labour on farms during the busy harvest months. 

The government will be evaluating the pilot ahead of any decisions being taken on how future needs of the sector will be addressed.

The government has also announced a new immigration policy. Please see here for more information on this.