The UK is to make thousands of emergency temporary work visas available to address critical labour shortages in the haulage and food processing industries.
Under the temporary visa scheme announced by the Government, a total of 10,500 three-month work permits will be issued by the Home Office, in an attempt to ‘save Christmas’ for Britains.
Shortages in HGV drivers transporting petrol to petrol stations have led to long queues, panic buying and closure of some petrol stations. The food industry has also been affected by shortages in labour within factories and haulage, resulting in shortages of food supplies to supermarkets and restaurants.
Temporary visas for lorry drivers & poultry workers
5,500 temporary visas are being created for poultry workers.
5,000 visas will be made available for lorry drivers to come to the UK to work from October and run into 2022. Under revised plans, 300 fuel drivers from overseas would now be allowed to come to the UK “immediately” and remain until March 2022. The remaining 4,700 visas are for foreign food truck drivers are to be issued from late October until the end of February.
The initial proposals saw the temporary lorry visas issued for 3 months, from October until 24 December 2021, attracting widespread criticism from industry that this was too short a period to incentivise workers to come to the UK.
Eligibility for the visa scheme will not be limited to certain nationalities, although it is expected that the majority of applications will be made by European nationals.
The additional visas are expected to form part of the T5 Seasonal Worker scheme. Further detail is awaited from the Home Office.
Addressing the UK labour crisis
Without the new emergency visa scheme, UK companies are not able to access migrant workers such as HGV drivers and factory workers under the current immigration rules.
Following the end of EU free movement at the start of 2021, all non-UK residents must now apply for a visa to work in the UK. But the introduction of the UK’s new points-based immigration system removed any general ‘low skilled’ work visa routes. This means non-UK nationals must apply to work in the UK either by qualifying as a skilled migrant under a points-based route or under a specialist temporary work route, such as the seasonal worker scheme.
Loss of workers in the UK attributable to Brexit has been exacerbated by other factors such as low wages, poor working conditions and the pandemic. The haulage industry has also cited an ageing workforce and the current state of training and testing of new HGV drivers as contributing to the labour crisis.
Industries have responded that the scheme does not go far enough and is unlikely to have the necessary and immediate impact needed since worker shortages in both logistics and food production far surpass the 10,500 visas being created by the Government.
The visa changes are part of a package of responses by the Government to address supply chain issues currently impacting the UK, including longer-term measures to attract more new drivers and address the post-COVID HGV testing backlog
The impact of the emergency visa scheme will likely depend on two key factors. First, the willingness and ability of migrant workers to come to the UK – whether they are financially incentivised to make the move and are able to make arrangements for travel and accommodation within the limited timeframe. There are also shortages of HGV drivers across Europe, and concerns that UK working conditions are not up to the same standard as what is being offered in Europe.
Second, the Home Office will have to arrange itself to be able to process the surge in applications. This will be no mean feat since UKVI has yet to get back to pre-COVID service levels. It would be reasonable to surmise that the limited number of visas under the scheme – only 10,500 which industry says falls far short of the need – is because of the limitations of Home Office processing capabilities and how many can realistically be processed during the short period of the scheme.
Following the latest announcement extending the lorry visa scheme, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the situation will be kept “under review” when asked if the Government would look to further relax the Immigration Rules to ease labour shortages.