To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to ensure an adequate labour supply for the horticultural sector in the (a) short and (b) long term.
On 24 December 2021, the Government announced that the seasonal worker visa route would be extended through to 2024. As with the Pilot, it allows overseas workers to come to the UK for up to six months to harvest both edible and ornamental crops. 30,000 visas will be available in 2022. This will be kept under review with the potential to increase by 10,000 visas if there is clear evidence of need.
While acknowledging the sector's reliance on foreign workers, the UK is committed to becoming a high-skilled, high-wage economy and the Government has been clear that more must be done to attract UK workers through offering training, career options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology.
To help with these efforts, Defra is working with industry and the Department for Work and Pensions to raise awareness of career opportunities within the horticulture sector among UK workers.
As announced in December 2020, Defra has undertaken a review of automation in horticulture during 2021, covering both the edible and ornamental sectors in England. It is due to be published in early 2022. Our response to the review will work alongside the seasonal worker visa route - and Defra's efforts to attract more UK residents into agricultural work - to support the overall aim of reducing the sector's dependency on seasonal migrant labour
Defra is also engaging with the operators of the seasonal worker visa route to prepare and advance emergency plans in response to the situation in Ukraine. Operators can recruit from any country they choose for the seasonal workers visa route and operators recruited seasonal works from almost 50 countries in 2021.