NFU Scotland has called on the UK Government’s landmark immigration legislation to recognise the hugely important role that non-UK workers play in Scotland’s food and farming sectors.

The UK Government’s Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill passed its first vote in the House of Commons. The Bill will establish the legal framework to end the free movement of people between the UK and EU following the end of the transition period allowing the UK Government’s preferred Points Based System of immigration to come into force on 1st January 2021.

This is the second iteration of this landmark legislation, with a Bill of the same name falling at the dissolution of Parliament before last year’s General Election in December 2019. In the first iteration, NFUS gave evidence to MPs, where it opposed the ending of free movement after the UK’s exit from Europe.

Whilst the Bill is framework legislation, the UK Government set out its intended future immigration system on 18th February this year which will create a points-based entry system for individuals who earn above a minimum salary of £25,600 and who are considered to be ‘highly skilled’. The policy proposes to end all routes to permanent residence in the UK for workers deemed to be of ‘lower skill’ from 1st January 2021.

NFUS urges any of its members who currently employ individuals from the EU in a permanent or a seasonal capacity to ensure that their staff have registered for Settled or Pre-Settled Status. The Scheme ensures that any individual living and working in the EU either in a permanent or seasonal capacity before 31 December 2021 are able to stay and, in the case of Pre-Settled Status, return to work in the UK for five years following the end of transition.

Commenting on the Bill moving to the next stage in the Commons, NFU Scotland president, Andrew McCornick, said: “NFUS has always maintained that workers from outside the UK are highly valued in every sector represented in Scottish agriculture, food and drink.  Quite simply, without the ability to recruit workers from outside the UK in a seasonal and permanent capacity, both on the farm and off the farm, our sector will not be able to reach its full potential and the food and drink sector’s position as the biggest manufacturing sector in Scotland will be at risk.

“Whilst NFU Scotland fundamentally disagrees with the UK Government’s intention to end free movement after the expiry of the transition period, we accept that this is an immovable policy priority and, as such, our focus is firmly on ensuring that the future system to come into force on 1 January is fit-for-purpose.

“We have been very vocal in contesting some of the assertions in the UK Government’s policy paper for its future Points Based immigration System regarding its definition of ‘skilled work’. Migrant workers who work in our fields, packhouses, dairy units, veterinary practices, abattoirs and elsewhere have a high level of manual skill and are highly valued within our sector. Not only that, but they provide a vital contribution to often fragile and remote communities, and the productivity of our rural economy. We want to work with the UK Government and its Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to ensure that this is understood.

“We will remain keenly engaged with the Bill as it continues its journey through the House of Commons and will also feed strong evidence into the MAC’s consultation on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) which opened last week.”