Immigration minister reassures farming employers over post-Brexit workforce
- Credit: G's Group
Farming leaders in East Anglia have welcomed a Norfolk MP's efforts to clarify the post-Brexit status of foreign workers who are vital to the region's food industries.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis, who is also the MP for Great Yarmouth, wrote to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) to update its members on the rights of EU citizens in the UK following an agreement made at the European Council in December.
'We have taken a big step forward,' says the letter. 'EU citizens living lawfully here before the UK's exit from the EU will be able to stay. The deal will respect the rights that individuals are exercising and the benefits they currently have. This will help EU citizens and organisations alike plan for the future.'
Mr Lewis outlines 'three simple messages' for farming employers to share with their staff:
• You will be able to stay if you are in the UK when the UK leaves the EU;
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• Close family members will be able to join you;
• It will be 'easy and inexpensive' to apply for settled status, and a streamlined process will open during the second half of 2018.
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The letter adds: 'The agreement will not only enable families who have built their lives together in the EU and UK to stay together; it also gives certainty about healthcare, pensions and other benefits.'
The NFU says continued access to non-UK workers will be critical after Brexit – particularly in horticultural and poultry businesses whose seasonal labour demands rely heavily on labour from outside the UK.
NFU East Anglia's regional director Robert Sheasby said: 'Access to a competent and reliable workforce is vital for our food production, especially in a time of record low levels of UK unemployment. EU nationals form a crucially important part of this workforce on farming businesses across our region. They are widely employed throughout the supply chain as well.
'Securing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK is therefore critical, whatever the outcome of a final (Brexit) deal, so we welcome this clarification.
'We will continue to work with the Home Office to ensure our members are kept up to date and to make sure EU nationals working in food and farming are aware of what they need to do to secure these rights.'
While welcoming more certainty for its permanent workers, a major East Anglian grower said more needs to be done to safeguard its seasonal workforce after Brexit.
The G's Group, based at Barway near Ely in Cambridgeshire, employs 2,500 seasonal workers at the peak of the season, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, to gather and process the firm's vast crop of salad and vegetables including lettuces and celery.
Group HR director Beverly Dixon said: 'We are pleased that the conclusion of the first phase of negotiations has brought some certainty for our permanent EU national colleagues.
'We recognise and greatly value the important contribution that these highly-skilled, well-trained individuals make to our business and to productivity across the UK agricultural sector as a whole. Despite this, the problem of seasonal harvest workers in UK agriculture remains and is not dependent on the outcome of external negotiations; we very much hope that we will see some progress on this issue in the coming months.'