Defra Secretary Michael Gove has pledged to scrap the controversial threshold which would bar foreign farm workers earning under £30,000 from entering the UK if he becomes Prime Minister.
The £30,000 figure was arrived at by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which Ministers had asked to make recommendations for how post-Brexit immigration policy should work, as a way of distinguishing between ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ workers.
The proposal was slammed by farm groups, which pointed out agricultural work and jobs in other areas of the food chain, such as abattoirs, were in fact highly skilled but paid less than £30,000.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in Parliament last week (June 5), Mr Gove suggested the Government needed to take a more ‘sector-specific approach’.
He said: “You can have people working in the meat trade who are skilled butchers who will be earning less than [£30,000], you can have some people who are official veterinarians who are critical for making sure animal health is upheld who might be earning less than that, and you might have some people involved in fish processing who would be highly skilled who might earn less than that.
“We do need to take account of this.”
Asked if as Prime Minister he would ensure this approach would be followed, he said: “It is a very tempting way of putting the question.
“The view I would take is as a Government, we need to show sector-specific flexibility, yes.”
Mr Gove went on to suggest he would consider holding an ‘early’ review of the number of workers involved in the pilot seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme.
At the moment, just 2,500 people are able to come to the UK in each year of the scheme, but the NFU has estimated 80,000 workers are needed each year to harvest British crops.
“We will see how this season proceeds, but yes absolutely, there is already a significant set of views from people who know what they are talking about on how things might need to expand in the future,” he said.