The Bishop of St Albans received the following written answer on 26th April 2022:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address the shortfall of workers in the agricultural sector.
Lord Benyon (Con): Defra continues to work closely with industry and other Government departments to understand labour supply and demand, including both permanent and seasonal workforce requirements, and to ensure there is a long-term strategy for the food and farming workforce.
On 24 December 2021, the Government announced that the seasonal worker visa route will be extended to 2024 to allow overseas workers to come to the UK for up to six months to harvest both edible and ornamental crops. This will provide a greater degree of certainty to the sector after a series of annual pilots between 2019 and 2021. For 2022 and through to 2024, 30,000 visas will be available each year. This will be kept under review, with the potential to increase the annual visa numbers by 10,000 to 40,000 each year if necessary.
While acknowledging the sector’s reliance on foreign workers, the UK is committed to becoming a high-skilled, high-wage economy and the government has been clear that more must be done to attract UK workers through offering training, career options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology.
Defra’s Review of Automation in Horticulture will inform a range of policy decisions regarding automation and seasonal labour from 2022 onwards. Defra plans to publish the automation review and Government response in early summer, after the pre-election period for the 2022 local elections.
In addition, food and farming businesses can continue to rely on EU nationals living in the UK with settled or pre-settled status. Over 5.5 million EU citizens and their families have been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Defra is also working with industry and the Department for Work and Pensions to raise awareness of career opportunities within the food and farming sectors among UK workers.
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