Seasonal worker visa route extended following labour shortages

The government has just announced that the seasonal worker visa route will be extended until 2029 following labour shortages. 

The UK government has just announced that the seasonal worker visa route will be extended until 2029 following labour shortages. 

43,000 visas will be available to the horticulture sector in 2025, with another 2,000 visas for poultry. 

Further details of the number of visas available for 2026 to 2029 will be set out later this year, Defra confirmed. 

Alongside this news, the government also plans to allocate up to £50 million of new funding for technology to support fully automated packhouses and bring robotic crop pickers on a par with human pickers in the next three to five years. 

The implementation of a series of new measures to support the food and drink industry comes in response to John Shropshire’s Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain. 

Funding for cutting-edge technology 

While announcing the package of new measures, environment secretary Steve Barclay said: “We have a world-class food and drink sector, and the measures announced today will strengthen this by boosting funding for the cutting-edge technology that will reduce reliance on migrant labour in the long term. 

“Businesses do best when they can plan effectively for the future, which is why we’ve extended the seasonal worker visa route until 2029 to give farmers and growers the certainty they need to thrive.” 

Attracting UK workers 

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Victoria Vyvyan warmly welcomed the news of the five-year extension of the seasonal worker visa scheme. 

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan.

She said that migrant workers are “vital” for the ongoing viability of sectors such as horticulture and poultry. 

Ms Vyvyan added: “Greater efforts need to be made attracting people into the industry from the UK workforce.  

“Agriculture is an exciting and dynamic sector, but there are considerable skills gaps, and there needs to be more focus in schools and colleges on making it a more attractive career choice and encouraging those from a non-farming background into the industry. 

“Increased automation will help fill labour shortages to an extent, but this requires significant investment, and the costs may be prohibitive for some businesses.” 

The CLA president also pointed out that a lack of affordable housing in rural areas goes “hand-in-hand” with labour issues, with many workers unable to afford to live in the countryside.  

Ms Vyvian added: “The planning system must support small-scale developments, adding small numbers of homes to a large number of villages.” 

Huge relief 

NFU president Tom Bradshaw.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw added that the seasonal worker visa extension will be “a huge relief” for the poultry and horticulture sectors.  

He said: “We have seen in the past how damaging shortages of workers has been, with approximately £60 million worth of crops lost in 2022 due to a shortfall of workers.  

“We know that with the correct trading conditions there are significant opportunities for growth and the commitment to a five-year scheme is very positive.  

“Moving forward, it is vital to have assurance that the number of visas and the costs associated with accessing them will continue to meet the needs of our food producers.” 

Automatisation of the sector 

The government said it is also “ramping up” its support for the use of automation in the sector to reduce the reliance on migrant workers while introducing measures to promote British workers into agriculture.  

Defra confirmed that this will start with immediate work to fully automate a group of major packhouses in 12 to 18 months, which will improve understanding of the government support needed to make fully automated packhouses universally viable. 

Information learned from this will help inform the government’s planned £50 million package of packhouse automation funding, with further details to be announced later this year to cover 2024-25 and 2025-26. 

The government said it would also work to improve the attractiveness of the farming industry for domestic workers. 

This will include delivering regional recruitment strategies to support jobseekers in roles in food and farming. 

READ MORE : Dale Farm co-op makes largest investment in Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry 

READ MORE : Suffolk company helps farmers successfully diversify their business

© Farmers Guide 2024. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use Privacy Policy

Website Design by Unity Online

We have moved!

We’ve now moved to our new office in Stowmarket. If you wish to contact us please use our new address:

Unit 3-4 Boudicca Road, Suffolk Central Business Park, Stowmarket, IP14 1WF

Thank you,

The Farmers Guide Team