Up to 800 butchers will be given temporary visas to work in the UK in new plans that are in response to concerns that as many as 150,000 pigs for slaughter could get culled.
The government announced today that pork butchers from overseas can apply up until 31 December for the visas that would allow them to work in the UK for six months.
The move is temporary, and the scheme is in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible since December 2020 to apply to come to the UK through the existing skilled worker route.
Under the plans, there will also be funding for additional meat storage, moves to introduce processing of animals on Saturdays, and the potential for longer working hours.
The government said the pig industry has faced challenges in recent months because of the pandemic and the temporary suspension of approval to export to China for some UK pork establishments.
This “unique range of pressures” has led to a backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter, Environment Secretary George Eustice said.
National Farming Union vice president Tom Bradshaw said the visa announcement was a “step in the right direction”.
On Times Radio, he said: “And I guess, for us now, the critical thing is how quickly can we get those butchers over here?”
Before the measures were announced, Tory minister Lord Benyon told the House of Lords that the steps planned by government would help “fill” the industry’s shortfall in workers.
Challenged by Labour on the government’s plans, Lord Benyon promised that there would measures to deal with gaps in the workforce soon. The peer said: “I had hoped to be able to come to the House with an announcement – it is imminent.”
Promising ministers and officials had been hard at work to help “this industry to get back on its feet”, he added: “There is a deficit of between 800 and 1,000 butchers we want to fill.”
“These are principally because, at the end of the Covid restrictions, many of the overseas workers returned home and we are seeking to find ways of bringing large numbers of them back.”
Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association (NPA), had told The Independent she was “hopeful” the government would relax language rules so hundreds of skilled butchers can come to the UK quickly.
She warned: “We need people in a short space of time – we don’t have months on end. It’s about getting the backlog of pigs off farms. As long as they help stop people having to kill animals on farms.”