New visas announced to address labour shortages

With the public furore growing as quickly as the petrol pumps dried up, the government has been quick to act in response to the shortage of HGV drivers that has crippled the UK. It has been announced that 5,000 visas will be made available for HGV drivers to help recruit workers to prop up the supply chain that has collapsed in recent weeks.

The announcement also contained a promise of an extra 5,500 visas for poultry workers, to ensure that the meat processing industry is able to cope with the rush to get turkeys on Christmas dinner tables.

News regarding the visas has been contained within Home Office announcements thus far so there are only basic details available currently. It is likely the immigration rules will need to be amended to provide the legal framework.

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What are the new immigration routes employers should be aware of?

We know that the new visas will be part of the current T5 Temporary worker scheme and will join the other categories within the seasonal worker route. This means that the visas will not allow applicants to work in any role they choose.

They will be sponsorship visas so that overarching bodies will become approved scheme operators, bestowed with the power to issue certificates of sponsorships to potential applicants.

We will find out in due course which bodies will take up these roles and the system will take time to set up which will inevitably delay getting workers into the UK.

We also need details on the finances as the application process is also likely to involve some significant costs.

The announcement indicated that the visa length will be limited to three months. Many industry figures think that the offer of a three-month visa will not be enough to entice workers back to the UK when jobs with better conditions are available in other parts of the EU.

There are also concerns that the visas may only be available to those drivers involved in the food supply chain, which will be bad news for those industries whose supply chains involve importing other goods into the UK.  

There is growing unease that this current recruitment crisis will not be an isolated episode. Care and hospitality workers, vets, IT professionals and now HGV drivers. The list of industries struggling to fill vacancies is expanding rapidly.

The end of free movement has put pressure on many sectors who previously relied on labour from Europe. They have been given very little time to adapt to filling this void by recruiting from the settled workforce and the current work based immigration system is not flexible enough to cope with these new demands. 

The framework of the sponsorship system has rigid eligibility requirements, which limits the types of jobs which can be sponsored to those which reach certain skill and salary thresholds.

This means that lower skilled and manual jobs, which are key to maintaining day-to-day life, are unable to access the system. Moreover, the hurdles applicants have to go through to obtain a visa may encourage many to look for jobs elsewhere.

The government has been quick to act in this case but creating new visa routes may not be a viable long-term solution. More industries are already lobbying the government and it is not tenable for each have a visa route specifically tailored for them.

There have been suggestions that the government should take steps to adapt the current immigration system to respond to these challenges. This may offer a more sustainable long-term solution than creating new visa routes to meet demands.


Joanna Hunt is head of immigration at Fieldfisher