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Ten-month visas to address seasonal worker shortages?

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A NEW visa scheme to solve the recruitment crisis in the hospitality, agriculture and retail sectors could be announced within weeks, the JEP can reveal.

Senator Lyndon Farnham

Non-EU nationals will be offered ten-month visas to work in the Island and must go back to their home country for at least two months before returning.

The labour shortages have been blamed on Brexit uncertainty for migrant workers, the falling value of the pound which has reduced the buying power of money earned in Jersey in their home countries and the strengthening economies of those countries. The move has been welcomed by those struggling to find staff. While the fine-print is yet to be finalised, Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham (pictured right) did confirm his intention to announce the plan ‘within weeks’.

He said: ‘What we have to do is find a way to ensure there is a supply of labour to industries that are currently suffering a shortage. It’s agriculture, tourism, retail and certain other sectors of the economy. We need to find a supply of labour without it having an unsustainable long-term effect on the overall population figure. The way we can do that is by offering a long annual work permit.’

Simon Soar from the Jersey Hospitality Association, which has previously spoken about an acute shortage of workers among members, says ten-month visas would make a big difference.

When contacted by the JEP, he said: ‘The JHA would welcome any opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access the Jersey market. This system would create a controlled environment and would remedy our problems without damaging the current workforce. There is no bigger concern we are facing at the moment than recruitment. The scheme you’ve told me about goes in line with talks we’ve been having in recent weeks. I have to say, as an association, we’d support this, so long as there aren’t too many costs and restrictions.’

The JEP understands that both Economic Development and Home Affairs are in talks about how the visa system would work in practice. One issue they face is that civil servants and politicians at Westminster have concerns that the scheme could provide non-EU nationals with a new route into the UK.

Peter Le Maistre, president of the Jersey Farmers’ Union, said the introduction of the visas would be ‘great news’ for those working in agriculture.

He said: ‘If that’s going to happen, that’s great news. Without it, there have been growers, particularly vegetable growers, who lost harvests last year and at the start of this year, and haven’t planted crops for this winter. If you think you’re going to be short of staff you’re not going to be planting crops. As an industry we’ve been ten to 15 per cent lower than we should be in terms of labour. I think we’ve got away with it, but that’s not sustainable.’

Senator Farnham said: ‘I think if it was anything less than a ten-month visa it would be difficult, as we’re pushing out the season. I want our economy to be less seasonal to drive up productivity. I’m working closely with Home Affairs and we are engaging with industry sectors. Something has to be in place before next summer and we’re hoping to have something agreed as soon as possible. We want to announce our plans as soon as possible so businesses can start planning.’

Gary Burgess

By Gary Burgess
Reporter

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