Over the last few years, recruitment and lack of labour have been the scourge of many businesses in agriculture and rural industries. However, all may not be lost in terms of hiring overseas workers. Our Immigration Law specialist Mark Templeton looks at the practical ways still available to recruit.
It is well reported that the impact of Brexit on staff shortages has become critical for many key sectors of the UK economy. Many staff shortages are reported to have arisen in what are described as low-skilled/low-wage occupations, which prior to Brexit were filled in significant numbers by EU citizens. This was certainly the case across rural industries and the end of free movement has posed significant recruitment challenges in low-skilled/low-wage occupations.
Although not an answer to staff shortages in low-skilled/low-wage occupations, the skilled worker visa could prove to be a valuable route to consider for recruiting from overseas in the immediate term.
To do this, employers would need to apply for a sponsor licence. These can be granted in relation to qualifying occupations, a list of which has been published by the Home Office and is available here. Crucially, the list contains many key occupations within agriculture and rural industries.
For example, the list of occupations qualifying for the skilled worker visa include:
Farming and Agriculture
Forestry & Estate Management
Fishing & Fisheries
Country Estate Management
There are two important factors to consider when utilising the skilled worker visa route. Firstly, to employ a skilled worker the employer must apply for and obtain a sponsor licence from the Home Office.
The general lack of awareness and information about the sponsor licence system has meant that in many sectors it remains underutilised as a means for staff recruitment.
Secondly, to sponsor a skilled worker in any of the above positions the minimum salary must be £25,600. Alternatively, the salary must be the ‘going rate’ for the job as set by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), if this is higher than £25,600. In reality, the going rate set by the ONS for many of the jobs listed is well below £25,600, so employers should be aware they may be paying a premium. Further, there are standard Home Office fees for each visa being sponsored.
Unlike many sectors who find that their desperately needed positions do not appear on the Home Office’s skilled worker list, the agriculture and rural sector will find answers to some of their recruitment challenges can be found there.
If the requirement to recruit in the listed occupations from overseas is considered critical, even as a short to medium term measure, the skilled worker visa route does provide real options. The uncertainty of being able to deliver core services owing to staff shortages, or paying exorbitant agency rates for temporary staff, may in fact make the skilled worker visa route more cost effective.
One serious attraction both for the overseas worker and the employer is that a person can be sponsored for up to five years on a skilled worker visa and can apply to settle after five years if they remain in a sponsored position. The sponsored person can also apply along with dependant family members. A little-known rule is that dependant family members have a right to work in any job in the UK and do not need to be sponsored themselves, reducing the administrative burden and uncertainty for many families.
The duration of the skilled worker visa is a major point of contrast with the seasonal workers visa, of which the agriculture and rural sectors will be very familiar. Under the seasonal workers visa, the visa is only valid for a maximum duration of six months. It does not allow dependants to be included and because of the short visa period, means that employers need to arrange accommodation and other essentials. These issues do not arise with the skilled worker visa.
The skilled worker visa route cannot be described as a perfect system or as stress and cost free as recruitment could be in the past when we benefited from the free movement of people. For the agricultural and rural sectors, however, it is a route that can be utilised to recruit much-needed staff to both protect and indeed expand businesses.
If you need support on any of the issues raised above, our immigration law expert, Mark Templeton, will be happy to help.
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