In 1947 the United Kingdom Sponsoring Authority (UKSA) was formed by the Department of Agriculture to provide a source of overseas labour to help in the post-war agricultural effort.
In 1984 USKA changed its name to the International Farm Experience Programme (IFEP) when it was put under the complete control of The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC).
IFEP’s arrangement with the Department of Employment was under the Training and Work Experience Scheme (TWES) which provided a reciprocal number of entry permits to the number of British students travelling abroad under IFEP. As the number of British students declined, and with the increased demand for foreign students to enter the UK on short term work experience and to learn English, it became clear the reciprocal arrangement was no longer suitable going forward. Since 1987 agriculture and horticulture had experienced a shortage of skilled and unskilled staff which was only likely to get worse.
In 1989 the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs made an application to the Home Office to administer a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). This would be a scheme allowing foreign nationals, outside of the EU to work in land based roles, for a maximum of six months ending no later than 30th November each year.
The proposal was that the SAWS scheme would be established to run alongside the TWES scheme, administered by the NFYFC, under the IFEP brand and with the approval of the Home Office. ‘HOPS’ was the brand used by the NFYFC for students who applied directly to employers. The Harvest Opportunity Permit Scheme (HOPS) was formed with the primary aim of providing work placement experience for students from Eastern Europe with UK Employers in the agricultural and horticultural industries.
In their first season HOPS administered the majority of their 1,000 cards for overseas students to undertake harvest work. The total number of work cards released by the Home Office in 1990 was 4,000 across 7 ‘operators’.
Due to their expansion, HOPS moved to their current office in 1996 when they issued almost 2,000 workers with permits. In 1997 the number of permits issued by HOPS doubled, in the following 6 years demand for workers grew significantly; at its peak in 2003 HOPS issued over 11,000 work permits to 270 registered farms.
HOPS became over time a major recipient of SAWS quota and therefore a vital source of labour for agricultural employers and by 2004 it became clear that its primary function was to provide labour so in 2005 the business became HOPS Labour Solutions to better reflect its role. 2004 was a challenging year as when the visa desks in Sofia and Bucharest were closed which excluded all applicants from Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania. In April all the Chinese visas were declined which put huge pressure on the Ukraine and Russia. It was in 2004 the EU enlargement policy changes came into effect impacting upon managed migration systems.
In 2007, SAWS was restricted to Romania and Bulgaria only when they joined the EU but had restricted access for movement of labour.
HOPS Labour Solutions Ltd was established as a PLC in January 2010 it is owed by the NFYFC. The Federation’s trustees act on behalf of the Federation as nominee shareholders.
The Home Office closed the SAWS scheme on 31 December 2013 which in effect removed a core strength of the business (SAWS quota given by government for us to bring in non EU workers) enjoyed by the business for many years and for the first time we faced a complete open market situation.
In January 2014 Romania and Bulgaria achieved full movement of labour status within the EU and the SAWS quota scheme was withdrawn. HOPS continued to operate their own Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) for EU residents only. This scheme enabled participants from Romania and Bulgaria and other EU countries with free access to work in the UK, to obtain placements on UK farms.
HOPS continues to be at the forefront of the seasonal labour industry supplying a high proportion of seasonal workers into UK horticulture and makes valuable contributions to DEFRA & NFU consultations about seasonal labour for the future, in addition to diversification into skilled and professional recruitment.