Defra Secretary Michael Gove has said the UK Government must look to hire agricultural workers from Ukraine as it designs a new immigration policy.
Mr Gove made the remarks when giving evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in the Scottish Parliament last week.
Asked by Gail Ross MSP how he planned to deal with the shortage of workers in the soft fruit sector, the Secretary of State said: “Over time, the source of labour from different parts of the EU in our agriculture and food production sectors has changed, so a while ago it tended to be people from Poland and the Baltic States, now increasingly it is people from Romania and Bulgaria.
“As Romania and Bulgaria themselves become more successful economically, they want, naturally, to have more of their workforce working in those countries, not going abroad.
“We all have to think about looking potentially further afield. It is not just an issue for the UK, but an issue for other countries in west Europe, and that means we will need to think in the future about how we can make sure workers from the Ukraine or other countries who want to come here can do so.”
In February this year, Mr Gove told the audience at NFU conference they should expect an announcement on a new seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme ‘shortly’.
His comments were prompted by a shortage of labour, with growers unable to source an adequate number of workers for several months in a row.
But one month later, Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes refused to give a date for the announcement of a new scheme, despite being put under intense pressure from MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
Justice Secretary David Gauke has since set out plans to replace some migrant workers in the agriculture sector with prisoners on day release.