Head of Policy
Head of Policy
The Seasonal Worker visa is a short term work visa which allows visa holders to enter the UK for 6 months in any 12-month period to work in agriculture or horticulture. As part of the UK’s response to the invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian workers who had entered the country to work in farms under the Seasonal Worker Visa route had their visas extended beyond six months and until the end of 2022. This extension, however, does not allow them to bring family members to safety, access public funds, or leave their work in agriculture, even if there is no work available. It also maintains their dependency on their employer – including for income, housing and immigration status.
FLEX, together with others, wrote to the Home Secretary and Minister of Immigration early in March 2022 to highlight the increased risks of exploitation for Ukrainian workers on the Seasonal Worker Visa (SWV) due to the dangerous combination of their changed circumstances due to the invasion of Ukraine, the restricted terms of the Seasonal Workers Visa, and the general risks associated with agricultural work and the SWV (see FLEX’s assessment of the risk of forced labour on the Seasonal Workers Pilot). Concerns set out in the letter include that workers are highly dependent on their employers, including for information, accommodation and work. They have no option to change sectors or work outside the scheme, as well as no guarantee that they will in fact be given work within the scheme due to the work’s seasonal nature. This, combined with the fact that Seasonal Worker visa holders have no recourse to public funds, brings with it the risk of destitution and debt. Workers on the scheme also cannot bring family members from Ukraine to safety in the UK. We noted that 19,920 SW visas issued in 2021 (67% of the total) were to Ukrainian nationals.
On 29th March, the Government announced the introduction of the Ukraine Extension Scheme. FLEX welcomes the increased options which this additional scheme will give to many Ukrainians in the UK, including people working in agriculture on the Seasonal Worker Visa. The ability to work in any sector, access public funds and to study will do much to prevent exploitation.
We are pleased that the Ukraine Extension Scheme addresses many of the recommendations in our letter and takes into account findings from our longer term work into risks experienced by those on the Seasonal Worker visa. We are keen to work proactively with government, Seasonal Worker visa scheme operators, community groups, legal advisors and others to ensure that these increased options can be accessed by workers in practice and that support is in place to prevent exploitation escalating as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.
Workers on the Seasonal Worker visa are in the UK temporarily. They are living and working in rural and relatively isolated areas. They may not speak English and will need support to access information and advice on their immigration options and on practical measures to enable them to safely remain in the UK for longer than they initially intended and to live here with their families. This will include finding employment, housing, and schooling for children. To make sure that workers on the Seasonal Worker visa are able to make use of the options available to them under the Ukraine Extension Scheme and to successfully avoid exploitation additional measures are needed:
The UK’s reliance on rapidly developed and frequently changing visa schemes exposes how unfit for purpose the UK’s asylum system is in practice, with its long delays and uncertainty prohibiting integration and rebuilding lives. The visa schemes available have inevitably left gaps in support, and people who do not fit easily into one of the new schemes will slip between them. This has been the case for some Ukrainian workers on the Seasonal Worker Visa who have been stuck on a scheme that is not suitable to their changed circumstances.
To achieve this, we recommend:
8 April 2022
 At the time of writing, there are three ‘Ukraine schemes’ or immigration routes specifically for those affected by the conflict in Ukraine. These are: The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine Scheme); the Ukraine Family Scheme visa; the Ukraine Extension scheme (to be opened 3 May 2022).
 See also Seasonal Workers Pilot review, 2019, DEFRA, Home Office, published December 2021; FLEX’s response to the Government’s review of the first year of the Seasonal Workers Pilot, January 2022; and Dame Sara Thornton raises concerns over labour exploitation risk for migrant workers in the agricultural sector, January 2022.
 See for example; Assessment of the risks of human trafficking for forced labour on the UK Seasonal Workers Pilot, March 2021, FLEX