Non-agricultural seasonal and temporary migrant workers in urban and rural Scotland: report

Report providing an estimate of the proportion of seasonal migrant workers outside of the agricultural sector in Scotland and information on the living and working conditions of non-agricultural seasonal migrant workers in rural and urban Scotland.

Temporary Worker Route

At the time of the research fieldwork, the proposed immigration route for lower skilled employment, was the temporary worker route. Feedback on this route was gathered from research participants. While this particular route is no longerbeing considered by the UK Government; elements of the feedback can be taken into account when thinking about the design of potential future sector specific immigration schemes for temporary and short-term workers.

There were mixed views regarding the temporary worker route, outlined in the UK Government's proposals for the future borders and immigration system, amongst employers and workers alike.

For businesses there was a view that the route did not address their requirements to secure a flow of temporary migrant workers to meet business demands. This was related to a general perception of post-Brexit migration policy, in that it was focused on reducing net migration as opposed to being driven by labour market demands, particularly to continue to attract low-skilled workers.

For seasonal and temporary migrant workers, outside of the agricultural sector, for whom this would be the main migration route post-Brexit, the route equally did not hold favour.

The main point of contention was the 12 month cooling off period prescribed by the route which inhibited the retention of staff as returners to businesses. There was a view that there is no point in training staff, or for workers to put in effort to the business as there is no longer term relationship or gain from the employment.

Furthermore, the cooling off period does not allow workers the flexibility of extending their stay placing too much of an emphasis on business requirements for labour rather than the motivations and requirements of the worker. On balance therefore the route was seen to be opportunistic for employers as there was no incentive to pay more than the minimum wage or provide training opportunities for workers. Therefore, this type of route may contribute to a differentiation in terms of the treatment of permanent and temporary workers within business contexts.

There was a view that the 12 month period would attract "young people from Australia or New Zealand looking for a new experience rather than workers". This perception was related to the construct that workers from the EU8 had a different attitude to work than other migrant or local workers. Considering this perspective, there was a view that a reduced three month cooling off period would be more reasonable. Furthermore, the low-risk countries eligible for the route should follow the seasonal/temporary patterns of employment currently in Scotland/the UK – the EU8.

The point concerning "no recourse to public funds" was not seen as an issue as there was a view among seasonal and temporary migrant workers that "they shouldn't take advantage of the system". Although there was some discussion around whether workers would still be paying into the system, through taxation, and not being able to get any of the reciprocal benefits. Consuming public services was not a key motivation for seasonal and temporary migrant workers as they are primarily here to work – so the conundrum regarding contributing to tax revenue which funds public services was not considered as long as there is are benefits for migrant workers in terms of good employment opportunities for workers and salary conditions.

The issue of family migration was equally not a point of contention as the time limit on the route meant that workers did not want to uproot their families to come and live in Scotland for 12 months and then go back home again. This was seen to be disruptive to family life. The implication of this might be that a younger age profile of migrant workers may be attracted to this scheme, comparative to those who have families.

The complication of obtaining the visa was also discussed, and there was a view that this depended on how difficult the process is and what type of information workers would have to provide. There is a bigger question mark around cost and the route at present does not specify the costs involved which will carry weight in determining whether the visa will prohibit current workers from applying.

In terms of the right to work checks there was a view that for the right candidate, managers would be willing to make an effort, however there are diminishing returns when you are dealing with higher volumes of workers and the work is elementary in nature so it is not tied to the skillset of a specific worker. Furthermore, additional time and bureaucracy related to employing migrant workers may squeeze the business bottom line.

There was a view that an online register of workers should be made available whereby employers can scan the relevant documentation and provide this to the UK Government as part of the right to work check.

More generally, in comparison to international temporary workers programmes, the proposed route does not incorporate elements that are recognised as best practice for circular migration; this includes ensuring protections for migrant workers' rights, provision of requirements for pastoral support and duty of care towards migrant workers, as well as closer governmental relations between sending and host countries to coordinate migration and reintegration of workers to their home country.

A number of additional issues were also raised more generally on the point of immigration policy:

  • The issue of health insurance was described and there was a view that many schemes require the worker to have health insurance (particularly as there is no recourse to public funds) this can lead to companies monopolising this requirement and potentially exploiting workers for higher fees.
  • There was a view that the skills-based immigration policy is "out of touch with reality" in that 95% of migrant workers are in elemetary occupations and that within the service sector few are able to attract a £30,000 salary. Since the research has been conducted, the UK Government has announced that the salary threshold has been reduced to £25,600.
  • There was a view that the Scotland Only Shortage Occupation List needs to be reviewed in line with business needs. This can be done in consultation with trade bodies that represent business interests. A review of the Shortage Occupation List was conducted by the Migration Advisory Committee in 2018/19 which led to an expansion of the list to include veterinarians, architects and web designers. In considering changes to the list, the Migration Advisory Committee considers whether there is a national shortage of the particular role, and whether it is sensible to fill with migrant workers.


  • The UK Government should be cognisant of the complex ecosystem of seasonal and temporary migrant patterns of employment within the non-agricultural sectors when developing post-Brexit migration policy. Further considerations should be given to the immigration routes available to "low skilled" migrant workers.The labour market demographic profile has emerged from the flexibility stemming from free movement and other routes such as Tier 5 Youth Mobility . The UK Government's proposals for the post-Brexit future borders and immigration system significantly reduce the options for seasonal and temporary workers to come to the UK lawfully and may not fulfil the demand for "low-skilled workers" as it does not provide the same level of flexibility as currently enjoyed.
  • Both the UK and Scottish Governments should invest in more data, analysis and monitoring for those business sectors most affected by to the loss of free movement and specifically changes to the availability of migrant workers able to work in low-skilled employment. Our research has identified a high concentration of seasonal migrant workers within the seafood processing and hospitality sector. While the latter sector may attract workers through the Tier 5 Youth Mobility route (our research identified a seasonal migrant worker from Canada in hospitality sector), this may not be the case for the former sector. Therefore, there may be requirements for a sector-specific employment route to be developed.
  • There needs to be a rationalisation of migration policy as there are overarching economic and security concerns that are driving current policy formations – in Scotland, there is a further issue concerning population growth and sustainability particularly in rural areas as well as the issue of supporting and creating resilient communities. Migration policies with pathways to settlement and a more inclusive approach to family migration will be important in these respects, but also an emphasis and measurement of the means and markers of the social intergration of different migrant groups.
  • The research identified evidence of exploitation and mistreatment of seasonal and temporary migrant workers. Considering this evidence, both the UK and Scottish Government should pay more attention to workers' rights and parity in the treatment and conditions of temporary and permanent workers particularly in the context of the migrant experience where issues are more acute. This includes placing a requirement on formalising employment contracts/arrangements for migrant workers as this can be an important safeguard against exploitation, as well as increased enforcement of the working time regulations - 11% of seasonal migrant workers were working 50 hours or more per week.
  • Scottish Government should consider increasing information and support provided to migrant workers in terms of their employment rights including introducing formalised complaints procedures. In New Zealand a helpline to report issues has been recommended following a review of the exploitation of migrant workers. These mechanisms can be introduced by regulators of sectors which are particularly reliant on temporary migrant labour such as seafood processing and hospitality.
  • Scottish Government should undertake a review of a proposed Scottish Visa system in collaboration with the UK Government; including what the eligibility requirements for this will be, building upon the recent Scottish Government policy paper on migration[23]. Importantly, this should consider if there are motivations to support and strengthen communities, then this might involve creating pathways for family migration.
  • The UK Government should work with the devolved administrations to consider the process by which roles are added to the Shortage Occupation List, including increased consultation and rapid review among stakeholders, trade union representatives and businesses to identify roles which need to be added to the SOL. The SOL can then play a feature within the future skills based immigration system enabling points for jobs in a comprehensive list of shortage occupations.There should be a commitment to regularly and quickly update this and for stakeholdersto be able to feed into the review process.

The literature review has identified that there are elements of the New Zealand Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme which are internationally recognised as best practice in relation to managing circular migration (Gibson and McKenzie 2010). This includes a commitment to reviewing and developing the programme based on a feedback-loop; protections for workers' rights as the scheme is developed with trade union representatives on-board; a system of pastoral support for workers; and by committing to developing relations between sending and host countries to ensure benefits are more equitably distributed, and issues of re-integration of workers back into their home communities is addressed by the scheme.

Aspects of this scheme can be taken into consideration when thinking about migration policy options for Scotland.

  • The UK Government should reconsider a general temporary worker route as was previously being suggested to enable businesses to transition from the loss of free movement. However, the the length of the cooling off period for the temporary worker route should be reconfigured as this prohibits the retention of skills and workers commitment to returning to the business for work – potentially to minimise this to 3 months.
  • Both UK and Scottish Governments should track temporal patterns of migration. Repeating this study with a broader definition of temporary migrant workers and larger sample size for the sectors where there is a reported higher prevalence of temporary and migrant employment will enable robust statistical results.



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