The HTA responds to new immigration policy

The Government has set out its Immigration policy post-transition by announcing the introduction of a new points-based immigration system commencing January 2021.

The system is designed to attract high-skilled workers into the UK and to exclude a low-skilled workforce.

The Government’s overall stance puts the ornamental horticulture sector in a very precarious position from January 2021. The industry needs skilled horticulturalists in addition to casual seasonal workers to fulfil its labour requirements in the growing season and to enable industry expansion. Last year’s review of the Shortage Occupation List disappointingly excluded horticulturalists, despite the industry asking for this to be included having identified employment gaps for skilled horticulturalists.

Although the Government confirmed an increase in its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme for 2020 to 10,000 places, ornamental horticulture is not included. There are no plans to extend the numbers despite evidence showing that the ornamental and edible sectors combined have 70,000 vacancies to fill during the season.

Martin Emmett, HTA Ornamentals Management Committee Chair, expresses his concerns; “The introduction of the points based system will have a significant impact on our sector. Availability of both skilled and unskilled labour is already limiting the growth of ornamental horticultural businesses.

“Our concerns about future labour supply were validated in the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on the points-based system, published two weeks ago, they highlighted that our sector, along with other key parts of the economy (including social care), will be affected by labour shortages for skilled workers.

“The ornamental horticulture sector, along with other sectors, relies on a seasonal workforce for its essential operations. We stand ready to support Government targets on tree planting, import substitution, biosecurity and UK production, but the Government needs to support the industry in how the shortfalls in labour are to be fulfilled in 2021 and beyond. We call on the Government to immediately look at significantly increasing the number of Seasonal Agriculture Worker Scheme places, extending this to the ornamental horticulture sector and to also ensure that ornamental and environmental horticulture is added to the Shortage Occupation List.

“Given that the Government’s approach to biosecurity is aimed at making the country less dependent on plant imports, we are faced with the challenge of producing more plants with less people. We need to explore, with the government, every possible mechanism to make this happen.”

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