Former minister calls on UK and EU to agree under-35s visa scheme to address labour shortages

Mon 10 Jul 2023
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Brexit chess pieces

A former government minister has called on the government to agree a new reciprocal visa scheme with the EU for workers aged under 35 to address ongoing skills shortages in key sectors such as food and drink.

Former environment minister George Eustice told the Observer that the current skills-based immigration “does not correspond to the needs of our economy”, citing labour shortages in the food industry, which he said were “contributing to inflation”.

“My proposal is that we commence bilateral negotiations with EU member states, starting with countries like Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states, and widen it to the whole of the EU eventually, to establish a reciprocal youth-mobility visa scheme,” he said.

Government response

A Home Office spokesman told the Independent that the government “already has successful Youth Mobility Schemes with 10 countries, including Australia and New Zealand, and remains open to agreeing them with our international partners, including EU member states.”

They added that the government is working closely with the Migration Advisory Committee to ensure the current points-based system for migration “works in the best interests of the economy”.

This includes “reviewing the Shortage Occupation List to ensure it reflects the current labour market”.

Fruit pickers

A shortage of migrant workers in the food industry – including for seasonal activities such as picking fruit – has long been viewed, in some quarters, as a cause for concern.

Earlier this summer, Eustice told the BBC that such workers should not be viewed as ‘low-skilled’ and called for a long-term seasonal workers scheme.

Home secretary Suella Braverman said that there was "no good reason" that the UK couldn’t train its own fruit pickers in order to reduce its reliance on migrant workers.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has told the Independent that it blames Brexit for “exacerbating labour shortages” in the agriculture sector.

Stepping down

Eustice served as the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs from February 2020 to September 2022, and has said he will step down as an MP at the next general election.

He has also criticised the trade deals negotiated by the government with Australia and New Zealand since leaving office.