Confirmation the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) will run until 2024 has met mixed reaction from farming leaders.
It said 30,000 visas will be available next year, with the option to increase by 10,000 if necessary, however the scheme will taper down from 2023 onwards and growers will be required to improve pay and conditions for workers.
The Government has also called on the sector to do more to attract UK worker through offering training, career options, wages increases, and to invest in increased automation technology.
Immigration Minister Kevin Foster said: “The extension to the seasonal worker visa route strikes the right balance of supporting the industry while it transitions to employing and prioritising domestic workers.”
The NFU south of the border welcomed confirmation SAWS will continue and said growers will be extremely relieved to have clarity over the future of the scheme for the next three years.
The union’s vice-president Tom Bradshaw said: “We have worked very closely with ministers and officials to secure the additional visas and the inclusion of ornamentals, which is something we have been calling for and is desperately needed for flower and plant growers across the country.
“With labour shortages so rife across the entire food supply chain, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to engage with the government on the sector’s needs.”
However, NFU Scotland (NFUS) said it was “deeply disappointing” news for fruit and vegetable growers and plans to dismantle the scheme from 2023 would be a blow for future production.
NFUS president, Martin Kennedy, said labour shortages – estimated to be around 20% on Scottish farms – and government delays introducing SAWS led to significant crop losses and millions of pounds of wastage.
He added: “Indications are that Scotland will produce a lot less fruit and veg next year and an announcement that will initially keep the number of seasonal visas for the UK static at 30,000 will not improve that picture.”
Mr Kennedy said NFUS, together with the NFU in England, had asked for the scheme to be extended to 55,700 visas for 2022.
He added: “For only 30,000 to be offered at the outset in 2022 is a big disappointment.”
Mr Kennedy also questioned Government calls for growers to recruit more domestic workers to pick fruit and vegetables and said one Scottish grower who offered 100 contracts of employment to UK applicants in September, had only six contracts accepted and only three turn up for work.
He added: “Failure to secure UK workers is not for want of trying.”