Ballet dancers are currently more favoured under UK immigration policy than lorry drivers and butchers, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has argued.

The BMPA’s claims of preferential immigration treatment for ballet dancers and artists refers to these professions’ inclusion on the UK’s shortage occupation list when other roles with worker deficits - such as food supply chain operatives - have failed to make the list.

The meat processor body called on the UK government to revisit the list and to grant food industry roles the same status granted to the cohort of priority vacancies that includes ballet dancers and artists.

Also requested as a matter of urgency by the BMPA was the introduction of a 12-month COVID-19 recovery visa for workers arriving into the UK from overseas.

The organisation proposed this visa as a means of addressing worker shortages in the short-term and commented that it would allow the sector time to find longer-term solutions to the issue it has described as a “full-blown labour crisis”.

Report findings

The BMPA’s comments were made in response to a report compiled by Grant Thornton on labour shortages in food processing and supply chain roles. The report was commissioned by representative bodies of the UK’s agri-food sector.

A key finding of the report was the estimation that the number of vacant roles across all sectors of the UK’s economy stands at 953,000, with more than half of these openings in the food and drink manufacturing sector.

In addition, some 1.3 million migrant workers have left the UK since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Drawbridge pulled'

BMPA CEO Nick Allen has said that the UK government has acted to exacerbate the crisis by introducing immigration controls which have impeded the movement of workers into the country.

“Since Brexit, the government has put in place new immigration rules that have abruptly pulled up the drawbridge and shut off access to overseas workers with specific skills and experience.

"This has plunged the meat industry and many others into a full-blown labour crisis,” commented Allen on the report.

The BMPA head went on to say that skilled agri-food workers cannot simply be sourced from within the UK’s existing workforce.

“Their solution is simply to tell businesses to get on with hiring British workers then stand back. But it’s not that simple, at least not in the short term,” he added.