NEW: Temporary Worker - Seasonal Worker visa (T5)
As of today, 1 December 2020, the Home Office has introduced a new visa category allowing employers in the edible horticulture sector to source EEA workers for seasonal work in the UK.
The new route appears to give these UK employers access to a capped pool of 10,000 workers who do not already have a right to work in the UK. Visa holders can stay in the UK to work for up to 6 months in any 12-month period to carry out seasonal work.
The announcement comes with just 31 days to go to the end of the Brexit transition period, when EEA nationals who are not already living in the UK will be subject to the same immigration rules as citizens from the rest of the world.
Employers in the UK agricultural and horticultural sectors have been heavily dependent on EU migrant labour for many years, particularly seasonal workers. This has been an important and necessary working relationship due to the UK’s own seasonal labour shortages.
This new route appears to follow the UK government’s Pilot Scheme for Seasonal Workers which was first introduced in April 2019. As with the Pilot Scheme, two overarching bodies (scheme operators) will act as ‘Sponsors’ who have each been issued with a sponsor licence for this new route: Concordia and Pro-Force.
It is important to note that this new category serves employers in the edible horticulture sector only, which is likely to come as a blow to employers in the agricultural sector who have also historically relied on an EU-heavy workforce. In Guidance published today, the Home Office provides definitions of what produce is considered as “edible horticulture”:
those grown in glasshouse systems
those grown outdoors, including vegetables, herbs, leafy salads and potatoes
those grown outdoors and under cover (e.g. in glasshouses or 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 and climbing flexible stems of certain plants, e.g. grapes (vine) or hops (bine)
Typically covers Agaricus bisporus species but can also include more exotic species; typically grown indoors
Procedure for applications – and the inevitable costs
The procedure for applying for a Seasonal Worker visa is much the same as it has been during the government’s Pilot Scheme. A prospective overseas worker must apply to either Concordia or Pro-Force for sponsorship. Concordia and Pro-Force can then assign a prospective employee to a UK employer and issue one of their Certificates of Sponsorship to that prospective worker. The worker then makes an online application (paying a fee of either £244 or £189) within 3 months of the start date of the role. Decisions should be made within 3 weeks and there may be the possibility of a fast-track processing (for an extra fee, of course!).
As well as the online fee of £244 or £189 (depending on where the worker is from), applicants must also demonstrate a maintenance requirement. Unless the Sponsor (Concordia or Pro-Force) are willing to ‘certify’ the first months’ accommodation and food for the worker, applicants must demonstrate that they have at least £1270 in their bank account and have held it for a full 28-day period prior to the application. As many UK employers in the sector will agree, a typical seasonal worker is unlikely to have this hefty amount sitting in their bank account for a month prior to travelling to the UK (more costs to consider) for work.
Whilst this new route will be welcome news to many employers in the edible horticulture sector who have been patiently awaiting clarity, costs and caps make it by no means a perfect solution.
UK farming unions have maintained that the number of seasonal visas needed is closer to 70,000. We know that only 11% of seasonal workers in 2020 were UK residents, despite the high profile ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign over the summer.
The government’s shift away from a reliance on labour from Europe will no doubt have serious repercussions for UK horticulture in 2021. The Brexit transition itself has been incredibly protracted, yet for many UK employers in the horticulture sector this drastic reduction in European labour – without UK residents willing or able to fill the void – is likely to be “too much (or ‘not enough’ as the case may be), too soon”.
Note on EEA nationals living in the UK by the end of 2020
You do not need to sponsor an EEA national who will arrive in the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020 (this is when free movement ends). EEA nationals (and their eligible family members) who wish to continue living and working in the UK after the end of free movement must apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) no later than 30 June 2021. People with settled or pre-settled status under the EUSS do not need to be sponsored. If you have EEA nationals on your payroll it is advisable to encourage them to apply to the EUSS as soon as possible.