The Government’s hostile post-Brexit immigration policies are responsible for prolonging the shortage of HGV drivers, according to an immigration law specialist.
Mariam Khaliq, Partner and Head of Immigration at law firm Bishop and Sewell, said: “The Government was forced to act quickly after the shortage of HGV drivers recently resulted in fuel shortages, panic buying and the closure of some petrol stations.
“Other sectors, such as the food industry, have also been affected by labour issues, resulting in shortages of food supplies to supermarkets and restaurants, leading to fears of some foods being unavailable at Christmas.
“To deal with this, the Government announced temporary visas will be made available for those in the haulage and poultry industries – 4,700 ‘Seasonal Worker’ visas for drivers in the food haulage sector (expiring on 28 February 2022) and 5,500 ‘Seasonal Worker’ visas for poultry workers (which will expire on 31 December 2021). In both instances, the period of visa free access offered appears far too short to incentivise workers to come to the UK.”
Indeed, Boris Johnson confirmed this week that the Government had only received 27 applications. Other visas in the temporary seasonal worker category are usually available for six months, so the current three month offer seems somewhat paltry, particularly given the acute shortages in the UK labour market.
There is currently estimated to be a shortfall of around 100,000 lorry drivers – triggered by an exodus of foreign nationals during the pandemic, coupled with post-Brexit immigration rules, and self-isolation requirements. The huge number of driver vacancies has been compounded by more general labour shortages affecting meat packing and fruit picking jobs – jobs previously done by EU nationals – which have impacted stock levels in supermarkets and fast-food chains.
Mariam continued: “The retail industry warned the government that, unless it took immediate measures to alleviate an acute shortage of haulage drivers, significant disruption was inevitable in the run-up to the Christmas season.
“However, whilst the Government has responded to industry and public concerns using the temporary visa category in the immigration rules, this does not go far enough and is unlikely to have the necessary and immediate impact needed, since the number of shortages surpasses the 10,500 visas being created by the Government.
“In our new post-Brexit world, it is likely we will see the same labour shortage issues occur in other industries, unless the UK Government ceases with its inherently hostile attitude towards immigration.”