George Eustice claimed the visa scheme had been closed early this year, and called on ministers to “provisionally allocate” the number of seasonal worker visas for next year to give farmers certainty about their workforce.
The Tory MP told ministers about daffodil growers in his Camborne and Redruth constituency in Cornwall, who desperately need extra workers in the fields before the end of January as they are facing a gap of “between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of their staffing needs”.
Asking an urgent question in the Commons, he said: “There have been some serious problems with administration and, in particular, scheme operators need to be issued with an allocation of certificates of sponsorship now so that they can recruit people and secure the visas necessary for workers to start in January.
“Now, last year the Home Office allowed certificates of sponsorship in 2021 to be used as the basis for workers arriving in January 2022.
“This year, for reasons that have not been properly explained, Home Office officials have taken a decision not to allow that.
“And indeed, I understand that they have closed the ability to issue certificates of sponsorship from the end of November, so that no one at the moment is able to issue them.”
Home Office minister Robert Jenrick said he was assured this year’s seasonal visas for agricultural workers scheme was working as normal, but stressed if it had been frozen as Mr Eustice claimed, then he would unfreeze it.
Addressing industries that require workers early in the year, he said: “We do need to take steps to ensure that those businesses can make sensible recruitment decisions in good time and not leave these decisions, as has happened too often, to the 11th hour.”
He added: “I will work intensively with my officials to ensure that we get that decision out as quickly as possible. In the interim, there are two options available to the industry.
“One is to make sure of workers who are already in the UK under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme… and secondly, that new individuals could enter the UK under the scheme using the under capacity within the 2022 placement and stay into 2023.”