Fears of ‘job crisis’ in Lincolnshire due to new visa system

Emile has worked in Lincolnshire’s agriculture industry for the last 10 years.

Farmers, NHS and the care industry have expressed concerns over the impact of Brexit on migrant workers.

He spends shifts picking seasonal produce from strawberries to peas, beans and sprouts.

Emile says: “It is either too warm in the summer, or too cold in the winter.

“But then, that is the weather in England. Crazy, eh?”

He and his fellow workers are often up at four in the morning, and walk nearly two miles to catch a minibus that takes them to their place of work.

Generally, they are in the fields from 7am until, as Emile explains, ‘when the boss says we finish’.

If there’s no work outdoors, he’s often asked to clean out chicken or pig units.

“It’s hard work, he adds, “but it is a job. The pay is okay - more than other countries.”

Emile was born in Poland and moved to England with his wife in the 1990s.

Next year, the couple hoped at least three other family members would move to England. Post-Brexit, though, he’s not so sure.

Last month, the Government announced plans for a new points system to control the number of foreign workers in this country.

Lincolnshire has a high percentage of non-British workers - and not just in agriculture either.

Bodies representing farming, catering, social care and nursing are warning it will be difficult to recruit staff under the new system.

The Royal College of Nursing says the proposals would ‘not meet the health and care needs of the population’.

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters raised ‘serious concerns’ about the ‘failure to recognise British food and farming’s needs.’

And the Food and Drink Federation spoke of concerns about bakers, meat processors and workers making food like cheese and pasta not qualifying under the new system.

Despite those warnings, the Government insists that the 3.2 million EU citizens who have applied to stay in the UK after Brexit will meet labour demands.

The Home Office points out there are schemes to ease restrictions on key low-skilled/low-paid jobs.

The Government is also insisting employers should ‘adjust and adapt’ and look to give more jobs to British workers.

According to one local farmer, that will create problems.

The farmer, who did not want to be named, says he regularly employs 20 to 30 Eastern Europeans - depending on the time of year.

He says they turn up on time, rarely complain about the weather, are happy to work overtime, and are rarely off sick. Everything, he adds, that Brits are not.

The farmer isn’t alone in his view. Many other employers fear what impact a potential reduction in foreign workers will have.

Profit margins are already low. Increasing wages would inevitably mean a hike in prices.

And what about the care industry? Foreign workers make up a sixth of the 840,000 workforce in England.

They are responsible for administering daily help to older and disabled adults in care homes and in the community.

According to the BBC,there are already significant shortages - one in every 11 posts is unfilled.

Just like our hospitals, the care system relies heavily on migrants.

However, it is hard to see how these workers would qualify for a visa. The average pay, at under £20,000, is too low to earn any points.

The roles are not classed a ‘shortage occupation’. Again, no points.

No-one in Whitehall has explained what the criteria for a ‘key’ job is.

All this in an area of the country which saw some of the biggest percentage votes in favour of leaving the EU.

Polls have shown reducing immigration was a big factor in swaying many votes... but at what cost?

• New system ‘will have an impact’, says district councillor

East Lindsey District councillor Steve Kirk has voiced his concerns about the new system.

In an interview with the BBC, he said: “There is a lot of seasonal work (in this area), there’s a lot of migrant-type work as well, not just from the EU or outside of the county. It’s bound to have some sort of impact.”

Latest figures show more than 1,000 EU citizens in East Lindsey have applied to live and work in the UK after Brexit, according to the Home Office.

The EU Settlement Scheme allows resident EU and Swiss citizens, plus those from the European Economic Area countries to apply to continue living and working in the UK.

The Government has hailed the process as a success, saying that nationally it has received more than 3 million applications so far.

But EU citizens’ rights campaigners say it could lead to more illegal workers - and misery for thousands.

Figures show that 1,160 applications were made in East Lindsey up to the end of last year, of which 1,060 were finalised.

Of those, 690 applicants were granted ‘settled status’, meaning they have a permanent right to remain in the UK.

A further 370 were handed pre-settled status, which gives them permission to keep living in the country and the chance to re-apply.