UK fishing labour shortage forces fast-track for overseas workers

The UK government is set to relax immigration rules to increase intake of fishing and seafood industry workers this summer.
Fishing boats at Peterhead harbour, Scotland, location of the new Denholm Seafoods facility. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Fishing boats at Peterhead harbour, Scotland, location of the new Denholm Seafoods facility. Photo: Adobe Stock.

The UK government is set to relax immigration rules for seafood industry workers this summer, in an effort to ease the fishing labour shortage in the country.

Jobs in the UK's seafood sector are being added to the "Shortage Occupation List", a government scheme which enables UK employers to pay overseas workers around 80% of the usual wage levels for industries deemed to be suffering a shortage of skilled labour.

Shortage of fishermen, skippers and deckhands

In 2021, UK fishing vessels landed 652,000 tonnes of sea fish with a value of £921 million. However, the industry in the UK has long suffered from a lack of skilled workers, often relying on bringing in labour from overseas. The fishing labour shortage has only intensified in the aftermath of Brexit, as changes to immigration rules mean it has become harder for employers to attract and retain overseas workers.

Occupations included on the new "shortage" list include share fishermen, trawler skippers and deckhands on large fishing vessels.

In practical terms, the scheme means the salary threshold for such roles is reduced to £20,960 instead of £26,200, according to examples provided by the UK Government. Moreover, applicants will pay reduced fees of £479 for a 3-year visa, down from £625. The broader English language requirements of the Skilled Worker route will also apply to roles intended to fill the UK's fishing labour shortage.

Need to modernize and upskill the fishing industry, says UK Government

The initiative forms part of the UK's £100 million Seafood Fund, aimed at modernizing facilities, training and upskilling fishermen, and investing in scientific research on key fish stocks.

Speaking on the government decision in May, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick emphasized the significance of the UK's seafood and fishing sectors, noting their vital contribution to food security and the economy. "They are a mainstay of our coastal communities, creating jobs, shaping infrastructure, and providing nutritious food for domestic and international markets," Jenrick said.

"We are backing the UK fishing industry with a comprehensive package of support to ensure that they are able to fully benefit from the fish in UK waters. We strongly encourage the sector to engage with this to ensure they can attract the workers they need."

UK Government to "expedite" decision-making process for fishing industry visas

The changes are slated to be implemented ahead of the summer fishing season, and are intended to complement an extensive support package for the sector, which includes guidance throughout the visa and sponsor application process, as well as assistance with the broader immigration system. The government has assured the fishing industry that efforts will be made to ensure an adequate capacity of English language testing slots, while visa and sponsor applications will be expedited, accelerating the decision-making process without incurring additional charges. Dedicated points of contact within UK Visas and Immigration will also be established specifically for the fishing industry.

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