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Minister Confirms Most Overseas Butchers Won't Arrive Until After Christmas

3 min read

Exclusive: Only a small proportion of overseas butchers recruited under a temporary visa scheme are expected to arrive before Christmas, Environment Secretary George Eustice has confirmed.

In an interview with The House, Eustice said the number of abattoir workers who will arrive in the UK this month is set to be in "the low one hundreds," with most recruits arriving in 2022. The government has made 800 visas available in their bid to tackle the crisis facing the pork industry.

Eustice said the rush to make sure there are enough turkeys on supermarket shelves this Christmas meant that bringing overseas poultry workers to the UK had been prioritised over recruiting other types of butchers from abroad. Around 2,000 poultry processors have been recruited under a seperate temporary visa scheme which expires at the end of the year, he revealed.

"The scheme operators for obvious reasons are focused on the poultry sector and getting people over to the UK to do the turkey season first, as that's right at its peak now," he said.

Eustice expects the market to rebalance in late spring at the earliest, insisting that the government "always knew" and "was clear at the time that this was never going to be a fix".

In October, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) created the temporary visa scheme for overseas butchers in response to a large and growing backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter on farms. 

The shortage of slaughterhouse workers in the UK, excarbated by the government's post-Brexit immigration rules, has meant farmers have been unable to send pigs to abattoirs to be humanely slaughtered, and are running out of space to keep them as a result. 

This has forced many to cull healthy pigs on their farms, with the latest number of recorded cases put at over 16,000, according to the National Pig Association, though the true number is likely to be bigger.

There have also been warnings that the slowdown in pork production will lead to a shortage of items like pigs in blankets and gammon this Christmas. Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors' Association (BMPA) last week told PoliticsHome that warnings of shortages had come to pass.

Eustice said that he believed people who are eligible for the temporary visas have been identified and had certificates of sponsorship submitted, which completes the first stage of getting people to the UK. 

"The Home Office are turning those around very quickly," he said. 

The Environment Secretary said the visa scheme, combined with other government measures, would begin to have a bigger impact on the backlog in early next year. The visas for overseas pork butchers expire six months after the date of issue.

The full interview will appear in The House magazine out on 10 January.

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