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Farmers call for 'rethink' on immigration rules amid economy fears

By Tom Ramage

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NFU Scotland and other key food and farming industry stakeholders have joined Scotland Food & Drink in writing to Home Secretary James Cleverly MP, calling for a rethink in proposed UK immigration rules.

The union's chief executive, John Davidson, joined industry partners from Quality Meat Scotland, Salmon Scotland, Seafood Scotland and Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society in expressing "deep concern" about proposals to reduce net migration in the UK by increasing salary thresholds for skilled workers, alongside other planned measures.

Farmers have joined others in the industry to call for a rethink from the Home Secretary on immigration measures. (David Macleod)
Farmers have joined others in the industry to call for a rethink from the Home Secretary on immigration measures. (David Macleod)

The stakeholders have told Westminster: “We think this is the wrong approach and ignores the essential role that overseas workers play in our industry, and our society.

"It is of course important to manage immigration effectively, and to ensure that communities continue to have the infrastructure and public services they need.

"It is equally vital to protect our economy and businesses, which already lack a sufficient pool of labour, to ensure communities across the UK have access to affordable, high-quality food and drink and to protect an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates £15 billion a year in Scotland alone."

The industry needed to secure a resilient, productive food supply chain operating across the UK, the Home Secretary was told.

"This requires a large, diverse workforce. Raising the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers from overseas at a time of existing labour shortages will increase the threat to the stability of the whole supply chain, from primary production through to manufacturers, retail, and hospitality providers.”

Scotland Food & Drink conducted an industry survey into labour shortages in 2023 where 92 per cent of respondents across a wide range of sectors indicated that they are unable to find or attract enough suitable employees to meet their operational needs.

The letter adds: “Our industry’s reach from farm to fork, and the accompanying requirement for labour, is vast. We recruit and value thousands of skilled workers from overseas to help to maintain the quality and availability of our ingredients and products. Frankly, we could not do what we do without our overseas workers. We are proud to be a major employer, a major contributor to exports, and, in many ways, the engine for economic growth in Scotland.”

Raising the skilled worker salary threshold to £38,700 would make the new minimum level higher than many of the vacant roles across the industry.

"This and the other changes planned will make it harder for businesses to recruit from overseas and for workers who might have considered applying.

"The impact will be worsened labour shortages, reduced profitability, higher prices and disruptions along the supply chain. Labour shortages are already reducing productivity and driving up operational costs, which increases food prices for consumers.

"At a time when the country is still grappling with a challenging economic climate, including stubbornly high inflation, the stakeholders argue that this could exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis."

The letter concludes: “We urge the UK Government to reconsider these proposals. A positive approach to immigration is needed. One that recognises the essential role of overseas workers to fill labour shortages in our food and drink industry. We must ensure that immigration policies support the needs of businesses and the wider economy.”

Read the full letter

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