The temporary visa scheme has now been accepting applications for almost two months. Despite the national labour shortage of these types of workers, there has not been a huge influx of applications to the scheme as anticipated, and where applications have been made, there is a low success rate because of the strict criteria that must be satisfied by both the UK employer and the applicant.
The Home Office initially allocated 10,500 three-month work visas to the scheme at the beginning of October, with 5,000 visas being reserved for HGV food drivers. The total number of visas under the scheme has now increased to 11,000 visas, with 4,700 visas held for HGV food drivers, 5,500 visas going to poultry workers, and 800 visas to pork butchers. Temporary visa applications for poultry workers have now closed and visas will expire on 31 December, while visa applications for pork butchers close at the end of December, and visas will expire six months from the date of issue.
Temporary visa applications for foreign HGV food drivers closed on 1 December, with all visas granted under the scheme expiring on 28 February 2022, regardless of their issue date. With standard processing times being up to 15 working days from the date of an applicant’s appointment at an overseas UK visa application centre, this hypothetically could result in much needed HGV food drivers receiving their visas in mid-December, which does little to alleviate the HGV driver shortage in the imminent run-up to Christmas.
An organisation must hold a Temporary Worker – Seasonal Worker sponsor licence to be allowed to employ an HGV food driver with a temporary visa under the scheme, which requires applying to the Home Office for a sponsor licence in the correct category. This, of course, adds another step to the already highly technical process. Sponsor licence applications are document-heavy and require a great deal of preparation to be successful. Standard processing times for sponsor licence applications are currently up to eight weeks, with delays being possible due to the high number of applications being submitted – approximately 300-350 per week – following Brexit and the end of the EU Settlement Scheme in June.
An additional factor further draining the HGV food driver visa applicant pool is the requirement for drivers to hold an HGV category C or C+E licence recognised for use in the UK, which only apply to EU, EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway), or Swiss licence holders. Furthermore, the HGV driver temporary visa does not include HGV fuel drivers due to the additional safety qualifications which HGV fuel drivers must hold.
UK businesses that hold a Temporary Worker – Seasonal Worker sponsor licence with a need to recruit foreign HGV food drivers should contact an approved scheme operator, which are responsible for the recruitment of workers under the temporary visa scheme. Approved scheme operators are bodies that hold an endorsement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and which are licensed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.
While the implementation of the temporary visa scheme is an avid attempt by the government to prevent a supply crisis over the Christmas holidays, it does not do enough to fast-track the visa applications, and the Home Office should be doing more to prioritise and expedite these types of applications if the overall purpose of the scheme is to come to fruition.
The temporary visa scheme does what it says on the tin and will not provide a long-term solution for the chronic national shortage of HGV drivers and other types of food and poultry supply workers. With UK businesses no longer able to rely on the free movement of EU/EEA/Swiss workers, there will have to be a greater substantial investment in the domestic workforce with reforms being made in both pay and working conditions to attract the types of workers it requires.
Rebecca Hone is an associate at Clarkslegal