Peter Le Maistre, head of the Jersey Farmers’ Union, said the new rules could end up costing him £360 per worker but that he remained optimistic that States Members would listen to his concerns and those of other industries reliant on seasonal labour.
The changes could include greater control over immigration and a swathe of policy changes, including nine-month, four-year and ten-year work permits, digital IDs and the need to declare any unspent criminal convictions.
The States also agreed that a common policy on population should be developed by the Council of Ministers, that ‘action should be taken to provide more responsive controls on the number of migrants who acquire the right to settle permanently in Jersey’ and automatic ‘graduation’ from one permission to another should be removed. The common policy on population will be reviewed and updated annually, following an amendment by Deputy Jess Perchard. Members supported the government’s proposition by 34 votes to 14.
Speaking about the changes, Mr Le Maistre said: ‘We are concerned about three main areas. The first is that everyone coming in will need a work permit and a visa which is about £360 per person but then they will be limited to nine months [in Jersey]. We had 660 seasonal staff last year and, doing the sums, that is around a quarter of a million pounds. Some potato farms might be able to work around that, starting in November and ending in July. But those farms also need people to work all months of the year. Back when we had Polish staff, who still make up the backbone of the industry, they could come for three months, then go away and then come back when things got busy. But there is no flexibility with this and the staff have got to stay away for three months at the end of their set work-permit period.’
Mr Le Maistre added that his industry was also concerned about the effect new rules could have on their skilled workers such as herdsmen and tractor drivers.
He added that, under the permit scheme, they could be here for four years but would be forced to leave for a year after that – despite farmers potentially having invested time and money training them for their specialist roles.
‘I was listening to the debate and it sounds like there will be room for discussion with States Members on this and the different industries to get their point of view and come up with ways forward,’ he said.
Introducing the proposal in the States, Deputy Rowland Huelin labelled it a ‘long-running saga’. He called migration ‘one of the most challenging issues we face’ and this was the ‘first step’ to addressing it.
Deputy Huelin compared current controls to a ‘leaky tap’. New controls would be like replacing the leaky tap, he said, with a tap which could ‘be turned up or down without leaking’. Summing up, Deputy Huelin returned to this metaphor saying: ‘Our plumbing doesn’t work.’
Migration policies would be fleshed out, he said, and a public consultation would take place in the summer.
Deputy Louise Doublet said: ‘Many Islanders would say this is the most important piece of work that will be carried out by our government.’
Members agreed on the need for action on migration but some called for clarity, with Deputy Rob Ward saying the biggest problem with the proposition was a lack of detail. His concern about a ‘caste system based on economic value’ was shared by Senator Kristina Moore.
Senator Steve Pallett, who is a member of the Migration and Population panel that reviewed the proposal, recognised the need for controls but stressed that all migrant workers ‘contribute to the financial wellbeing of the Island’. He warned that if controls were ‘applied too severely and not carefully monitored’, they could also impact economic recovery from the pandemic.
Chief Minister John Le Fondré said the proposal represented ‘a very significant step forward in identifying a robust set of controls over population’.
Deputy Mike Higgins said repeated governments had kicked the issue down the road and that this was long overdue. Meanwhile, Senator Sam Mézec labelled the proposal ‘rather thin on detail’ and said that taking ‘so long to get to this position’ was a ‘damning indictment of our political system’.
Work will be undertaken during 2021 on the migration project, according to Senator Le Fondré’s foreword to the proposal, and an interim population policy will also be produced. The new Council of Ministers ‘will be obliged to publish their full proposals during 2022’, it adds.