By Ruth Wills
The Government’s current immigration policy is ‘bonkers’ and must be amended to meet the needs of the agricultural sector, according to former Farming Minister George Eustice.
Speaking at the CLA breakfast at the Royal Cornwall Show (June 7), Mr Eustice lambasted Government advisers and called for the return of a fully operational Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme.
He said: “The essence of my message on immigration is that we should have a needs-based approach to the number of people we allow to come here to work.
“The Government’s approach at the moment is a skills-based approach to immigration which is driven by a panel of economists and in essence they believe they can socially engineer through immigration policy a solution to what they call the productivity puzzle.
“They think if you get rid of people on low incomes and destroy the industries that they work in, average wages go up and we are all better off – I think that is a completely bonkers and upside-down policy.
“Some economists want to use the immigration policy to gerrymander the labour market to try and drive up wages. It is a bonkers idea but we have six economists who advise the Government; no-one that has ever employed anyone or run a business, they’re just university lecturers.”
Mr Eustice called for a system which determines the needs of sectors with labour issues and makes the best provisions for them, from short-term work permits for three or four years to 12-month seasonal agricultural worker schemes.
“We should make it much easier for us to have people come here and work – that is why I have been arguing for a change from the so-called skills-based system to one around the needs of our real economy,” he said.
Mr Eustice secured a limited two-year pilot from the Home Office last year.
He added: “I have been arguing quite strongly that that should be converted to a fully operational seasonal workers scheme next year, probably with an allowance of 20,000 to 30,000 places just as the old scheme used to.
“The purpose of a pilot is to try new things that you are unsure about but the reality is when it comes to seasonal agricultural workers we ran a successful scheme from 1945 to 2013 we have enormous experience of how these things operate; we really do not need to waste time.”