A little known visa, which the government have been trialing since March 2019 to run until December 2020, is the Tier 5 Seasonal Worker visa. This allows migrants from any part of the world to come to the UK as seasonal workers, if they are working for farmers in the edible horticulture sector who have a special licence from the government, allowing them to sponsor such temporary workers.
The backdrop of this visa is the government’s recognition of the fact that a lot of UK farms have for many years relied on eastern Europeans (mainly Polish and Romanian workers) who come to the UK during harvest season and help with the harvesting of farms. Given that the UK has now left the EU and the freedom of movement from the EU zone has ended, farmers have lobbied the government to ensure that such farms do not go under due to the lack of workers for roles that Brits mostly do not wish to do.
This visa, which was officially launched on the 1st of December 2020, helps the government appease the farmers, by potentially providing a way for the farmers to bring in their workers after Brexit, but also in line with the government’s mantra of “Take Back Control”, as this visa is strictly controlled under the New Points-Based system, requiring farmers to apply for a special license and with the visa limited to a six-month maximum duration, with no possibility to extend or switch in-country.
What sort of jobs can it be used for?
This visa by definition is not intended for long term employers, such as ones offered under Tier 2, instead it is intended to fill in the seasonal gaps in employment which fluctuates or is restricted according to the season or time of the year.
Thus this visa, as mentioned above, comes with a requirement for sponsorship from farmers with a special licence, which currently can only be given to those in ‘edible horticulture sector;’ this means those growing:
- protected vegetables – those grown in glasshouse systems
- field vegetables – those grown outdoors, including vegetables, herbs, leafy salads and potatoes
- soft fruit – those grown outdoors or under cover (for example, in glasshouses or a polytunnel), such as strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and all ribes and rubus species
- top fruit (orchard fruit) – trees that bear fruit, such as apples, plums, cherries, and apricots
- vine and bines – both twining or climbing flexible stems of certain plants – for example, hops are a bine, and grapes are a vine
- mushrooms – typically covers Agaricus bisporus species but can also include more exotic species; typically grown indoors
Only 2 approved scheme operators (Concordia and Pro-Force) have been endorsed for this pilot and are listed in Appendix U to the Immigration Rules. Please note that currently, this pilot is subject to an annual quota of 30,000 set by the Home Office, UKVI for the year 2021.
This visa has three main eligibility requirements:
- Age – applicants must be 18 years old or above.
- Employer Sponsorship – applicants must have a certificate of sponsorship reference number from their UK sponsor.
- Maintenance – applicants must prove that they can support themselves by showing at least £945 in their bank account for 90 days before they apply (some employers may be able to offer some sort of guarantee on this so that applicants don’t need to have these funds in their bank when applying).
Terms and Conditions
Although sponsors can grant a multiple entry certificate of sponsorship, so that applicants can leave and return to the UK, they are only allowed to come to the UK for a maximum period of 6 months employment within any 12-month period.
Also, applicants cannot apply for this visa from the UK, but must apply from abroad, with strict conditions that they cannot work any other job (only the role depicted in the sponsorship certificate) or permanent employment. Applicants cannot bring their family or access any public funds.
On the flip side, workers with this visa would be able to work and get paid by their employer and are allowed to do some short courses while here. This visa is also relatively inexpensive, with the current cost of application being £244, with the fee automatically discounted to £55 if you come from certain countries, including from any EU country.
The future of seasonal workers
This is perhaps a good visa in principle to balance the huge demand for migrant workers by many employers in the edible horticulture sector and the government’s pledge to control immigration. However, such schemes have been operational in EU states such as Spain and Italy with mixed results, including employers having too much power over migrants, which in some cases has led to workers being subjected to modern slavery, often through recruiting agencies.
We will have to wait and see whether the gap left by EU workers can be filled by persons coming from further afield, as the government’s drive to encourage local farmworkers under the Pick for Britain scheme fell short last year, even with many UK residents being on furlough due to the COVID19 closure of business. Extra friction added to the Eastern Europeans in the form of Visa applications may put them off, as they have a choice of other EU states to which they can travel freely.
Given that the staff shortage seems to be spreading to even the hospitality industry, one would wonder where the government may have to expand this visa to cover other industries such as hospitality.
We perhaps will see more seasonal workers coming from Africa and Asia, from where the extra hassle may still be worth it was given the economic conditions. One would thus hope that the system will be robust enough to prevent the abuse witnessed in other countries
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