The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says it has several concerns relating to the points-based immigration system that has been announced by the UK Government and the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.
Commenting following the release of the new immigration policy, UFU deputy president David Brown said: “Northern Ireland’s (NI) agri-food processing sector is already finding it difficult to maintain labour all year round and in addition to this, securing access to temporary workers going forward may also be challenging. There are a number of elements within the points-based immigration system that are not very clear, and we would need also need further clarification on the specific matter of seasonal workers.
“The agri-food industry in NI must be able to retain access to non-UK labour and given the border with the Republic of Ireland (ROI), it should be treated differently to other parts of the UK. In excess 60 – 70% of those working in our agri-food processing sectors are EU citizens. If free movement of workers is not allowed, it will undermine the position of our processors and our wider industry who will not be able to compete with their counterparts south of the border.”
The Government’s announcement will also have specific severe consequences for the NI horticulture industry. Both growing and processing are highly dependent on access to non-UK labour.
“The points-based immigration system has the potential to bring huge ramifications for both the growing and processing horticulture sectors. The feared outcome could shift production from NI. The implications of which will create a greater dependency on imports and will have serious environmental implications, especially for crops that are traditionally grown here,” said Brown.
The UFU have already raised this issue with the NI Assembly Agriculture Committee and will continue to monitor and review the new immigration policy on behalf of members and the wider industry.