Home Office Minister Kevin Foster has corrected false claims made about the UK’s major processors approach to recruiting foreign labour that he made in front of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee.
During a heated hearing in mid-December, Mr Foster told the Committee that only one of the UK’s major four pork processors held the necessary license to allow them to sponsor visa applicants under the skilled worker route.
Industry representatives immediately contacted the committee challenging the Minister’s evidence and stating that all four were indeed sponsors, prompting EFRA chair Neil Parish to write to Mr Foster calling on him to clarify the statement.
Mr Parish also called for the Minister to clarify his assertion about a G-grade GCSE equivalent level of English language was the fundamental required for workers recruited under the scheme.
In his response, published by the committee, Mr Foster duly put the record straight, blaming officials for the error. He said: “On the basis of my briefing, I understood Cranswick Country Foods PLC allowed their sponsor licence to expire in September. However, I have now been informed by officials, the company was relicensed under slightly different names – including one licence granted less than a week before the Committee hearing.
“Disappointingly, officials also overlooked the licences held by Pilgrim’s Pride Ltd and WM Morrison Supermarkets PLC, due to naming convention issues. I have since been informed of these licences and I am grateful for this opportunity to correct the record.”
However, he went onto reiterate his point that the processors were not doing enough to utilise the the Skilled Worker visa option.
“The key point remains, the Skilled Worker visa route has allowed industry to sponsor butchers from overseas for over a year now having launched in December 2020,” he said. “Our management information shows, of the big four processors, only Karro Food Limited has sponsored any butchers to date, and the majority of those were only sponsored in November and December. It is open for the others to use the route and we encourage them to do so.”
On the English language point, he added: “As you identify, equivalence with particular qualifications is difficult. However, we allow someone to meet the requirement without sitting a language test if they have a pass in an English GCSE qualification, following education at a UK school which began while they were under 18.”
He signed off with a couple of barbs, adding that he was still waiting for the committee to forward the evidence it has received from industry about the barriers it said it was facing in sponsoring Skilled Worker visas. “You said you would present this evidence to me in writing. I look forward to receiving it,” he said.
“Finally, I would again express my surprise how an inquiry into issues with labour shortages in the food and farming sector has heard from employers and their representatives, especially their views on immigration as a solution, but not from a key group who might be able to assist in explaining recruitment difficulties, workers, in the form of their Trades Union representatives,” he added.