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 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 permits under their Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. This would be a scheme 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 IFEP under the approval of the Home Office for students who applied directly to employers. The Harvest Opportunity Permit Scheme 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 (1990) HOPS administered 880 of their 1,000 cards for overseas students to undertake harvest work. The total quota was 4,000. HOPS moved to a larger office in the NFYFC building in 1996, where they are currently still based, due to an expansion in numbers to 1,850 workers with permits. In 2003 at its peak HOPS issued 11,087 work permits to 270 registered farms.
HOPS (GB) 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 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.
In 2007, SAWS was restricted to Romania and Bulgaria only when they joined the EU but had restricted access for movement of labour.
The decision was taken in 2009 to separate the HOPS department of NFYFC and create a commercial entity to improve the management of the business and allow it to develop. HOPS Labour Solutions Ltd was incorporated in January 2010 as a Private Limited Company owed by the NFYFC. The Federation’s trustees act on behalf of the Federation as nominee shareholders.
The SAWS scheme ended on 31 December 2013 which in effect removed our USP (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.
2014 saw a reduction in demand for workers falling from a peak of 11,000 placements to around 5,000 as farmers sought to recruit direct to reduce their operating costs. The size of the HOPS workforce was adjusted accordingly with the Company remaining profitable before making payments to NFYFC, which have continued.