If you were to believe everything in the media, Christmas is effectively cancelled for 2021 due to the shortage of lorry drivers, CO2, labour, and fuel. Indeed, it sounds like the type of Christmas Scrooge himself might approve of. There appears to be some genuine concern, with Iceland’s MD Richard Walker stating, “We’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute, and I’d hate this one to be problematic as well”. After last years tricky Christmas period due to COVID-19, PM Boris Johnson is nervous about ruling out any disruption due to COVID-19. Asked whether he would promise not to ruin another Christmas, he told the media, “That is very much not the plan. I just want to go back to what I said about plan A and plan B,” he added. “Plan A is what we’re on, and plan B is what we might have to do. It’s a graduated series of steps, and we certainly don’t want or expect to have to do anything like last Christmas”. He even went as far as joking that 2021 could be a “two turkey Christmas” and people could “defrost last year’s bird”. To mitigate some potential Christmas supply issues, the Home Office has just made available 5,500 visas to enable overseas poultry workers to come to the UK and there have been surge in applications so far. In this article, we will take a look at the government’s plan to bring in overseas poultry workers and whether this will be enough to save Christmas 2021.
Norfolk Turkey farmers crying foul
According to the British Poultry Council, Christmas turkey production has fallen by around 20% because of ongoing staff shortages. This is a concern echoed by those at the coal face, including Mark Gorton of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, who has reported that he does not have enough staff to process his turkeys in time for Christmas. Prior to Brexit, Traditional Norfolk Poultry relied on an additional 400 workers brought in from eastern Europe, but this is no longer an option. Gorton told the BBC, “Brexit is 100% to blame for this. We’ve now got to go and appeal to overseas workers to come back when we’ve spent the last two or three years sending them away”.
Given that farms in the East Anglia region produce over one-fifth of all of the poultry for the UK, such labour shortages will need to be taken very seriously.
5,500 visas available for poultry workers
In response to concerns from within the food and poultry sectors, on 26th September 2021, the Home Office announced the availability of 5,500 new visas for poultry workers from outside the UK. The visas are now available through the existing temporary work visa route. The Home Office stated in its announcement, “Up to 5,500 poultry workers will be able to work in the UK ahead of Christmas 2021…This comes as the Department for Transport announced that up to 5,000 drivers will be able to come to the UK to transport food and fuel in the run-up to Christmas. The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain that has coped well in responding to unprecedented challenges. The decision will ensure that farmers and food producers have access to the necessary workforce to mitigate any potential risks to the Christmas food supply. Presently, recruitment for additional short-term HGV drivers and poultry workers began this October, and this route will be valid until 24th December 2021. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), working with the Department for Transport and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will process applications, once made, in a timely manner”.
The big question is, will this be enough to save Christmas?
What has been the response to the poultry work visa announcement?
Rather like the EU lorry driver visa announcement, those in the food and farming sectors believe the poultry worker scheme is “too little too late” to solve the supply chain crisis. The president of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), Baroness McGregor-Smith, has been particularly scathing, stating it was “equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire” because it would “not be enough to address the scale of the problem”.
Others have welcomed the move. The British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths believes the visa announcement will be well received; he said, “Temporary workers from outside the UK have long been vital to delivering Christmas for our sector and given the unprecedented challenges of the past year they are needed more than ever…British turkey and goose are the centrepieces of Christmas dinners across the country, and we are pleased that government has listened”. In addition, Ian Wright, who is the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), has backed the move saying it is a “pragmatic decision”.
How immigration Solicitors can help the food sector
The challenge for farmers and food processors now trying to scale up for Christmas is that time is against them. With only a matter of three months to go, suppliers will have to complete the recruitment required, navigate the new (temporary worker) visa process, arrange transport and accommodation, and pay higher wages to compete with the competition in the UK and the EU.
While directives from the UK’s government website says that, poultry workers must apply on or before November 15th, 2021 and HGV food drivers must apply on or before December 1st, 2021.
Given the administrative and recruitment headache many food producers in the UK are facing in the run-up to Christmas, those engaging the help of external immigration specialists will stand a better chance of securing the visas necessary in a timely manner. Immigration Solicitors can assist and advice temporary workers on all immigration matters, whether pickers, poultry workers, or lorry drivers, allowing businesses within the food supply chain to focus on their core business. core business.
Businesses across the UK at each stage of the food supply chain need all the help they can get to be ready for Christmas. By engaging a UK immigration law expert to help you bring overseas workers to the UK under these new schemes as soon as possible, you will have the best chance of securing the resources you need to keep the shelves stocked for Christmas.