The seasonal agricultural workers scheme pilot announced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Defra Secretary Michael Gove in September 2018 has officially opened.
The pilot, which was introduced after months of heavy pressure from industry, will allow fruit and vegetable growers to hire non-EU workers for up to six months before they must return home.
2,500 workers will be able to come to the UK in each year of the 24-month scheme, though the NFU estimates 80,000 people are needed annually to harvest British crops.
Concordia and Pro-Force have been granted licences to manage the pilots and will be responsible for identifying suitable workers and matching them to UK farms, as well as ensuring their welfare.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said: “Visiting a fruit farm last year, I saw first-hand how vital British produce is for our economy and listened carefully to the powerful arguments from farmers about the support they need.
“The seasonal worker pilot shows this Government not only listens, but is willing to take the necessary action to make sure our farms can continue to grow, sell and export more great British food.”
In March last year, Ms Nokes infuriated MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee with her evasive answers to questions about the agricultural labour shortage.
At one point, she appeared to be choking back laughter as committee chair Neil Parish took her to task for failing to respond properly to his concerns.
The pilot will run until the end of December 2020 and will be reviewed before any decisions are taken on running a future scheme.