Hiring international workers under the new Immigration Rules

05 January 2022

The farming and agricultural industries have keenly felt the combined consequences of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

With as many as 85% of roles in the sector filled by EU nationals, the end of freedom of movement and COVID-19 restricting travel has exacerbated strains on the workforce.

In positive news for business, we have now seen a shift away from a government policy pursuing solely numerical targets to reduce net migration. Now, with domestic autonomy over immigration policy and the UK’s borders, there has been a re-alignment between the Home Office and the Treasury to implement new targeted immigration policies to ensure a ready workforce supply for business.

In December 2020, the end of the Brexit transition period (and with it, the end of freedom of movement for EU nationals) saw the introduction of a new immigration system – with a single visa regime now applicable to all, irrespective of nationality. The system overhaul brought changes including:

abolition of the mandatory resident labour market test. This reduces recruitment on-boarding times and enables headhunting and use of agencies to identify job applicants;

reduction in minimum job skill level required to be eligible for visa sponsorship; and

reduction in the minimum salary level required to be eligible for visa sponsorship.

This opens up the recruitment market for many businesses that may now be seeking to fill their vacancies with international workers and prevents reliance on the role being listed on the Shortage Occupation List before sponsorship is viable. These changes also open up sponsorship to more business across the UK – with greater affordability for business outside the South East of England and for SMEs. 

Many employers with vacancies in the farming and agricultural industries can therefore now recruit and sponsor visas for international workers, not just on a temporary or seasonal basis but into full time, permanent roles. Examples of just some of the roles now eligible for visa sponsorship in the sector include: 

Category Example job titles

Agricultural contractor
Agricultural technician
Herd manager
Crofter (farming)

Horticultural trades

Nursery assistant (agriculture)
Market gardener

Fishmongers and poultry dressers

Butcher (fish, poultry)
Poultry processor
Filleter (fish)
Fish processor


Butcher’s assistant
Butchery manager
Master butcher

Agricultural and fishing trades not elsewhere classified

Aboricultural consultant
Bee farmer
Share fisherman
Trawler skipper
Tree surgeon

Managers and proprietors in agriculture and horticulture

Farm manager
Farm owner​
Nursery manager (horticulture)

Fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations not elsewhere classified

Vent chick sexer
Deckhand on large fishing vessel (9m+)
(These jobs must require three or more years’ full-time experience)

Inspectors of standards and regulations

Meat hygiene inspector

Nevertheless visa sponsorship does come at a significant cost. Visa application fees can be as much as £9,500 (for a five-year visa) for a single worker and nearly £20,000 if a nuclear family of four were looking to relocate. All visa costs have to be paid upfront in advance. In addition, mandatory evidence of a worker’s minimum English language proficiency is also a requirement for visa sponsorship.

Additionally for businesses that have not previously navigated the UK immigration system, an extra administrative burden will also apply. The business must be registered as an approved and licensed immigration sponsor, which brings a regime of ongoing reporting and record keeping requirements.
Whilst these changes in the rules do offer significant benefits in comparison to the previous regime, little is offered to provide for temporary or seasonal workers or for the use of self-employed or freelance contractors.

In autumn 2021 the Government responded to industry concerns relating to securing the British food supply chain for Christmas. A temporary concession for poultry workers, butchers and HGV drivers of foods good vehicles was provided but with a proviso that the Government expected wholesale reforms to improve pay and working conditions to encourage job applicants. Despite a Government embargo on additional changes, further concessions and extensions were put in place, with visa extensions for the food supply chain now permitted until spring 2022.

It is expected that the Home Office will be monitoring applications made under these concessions, use of the allocated quotas and supply chain resilience to assess whether there is a case for long-term policy change. In particular, calls remain for the Government to formalise and make permanent the Seasonal Worker pilot scheme for the edible horticulture sector (which concluded in December 2021) and stakeholders from the ornamental horticultural sector are seeking inclusion under this route to protect their market prospects. With the pilot scheme offering sponsorship for 30,000 seasonal workers but DEFRA predicting a need for 50,000 workers per annum, further policy developments are expected to be necessary. Let us hope that the Government responds accordingly. 

For further information or immigration support for your workers and business please contact our team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2022.



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