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.


The research study comprised of the following elements:

Survey research

Sampling approach

The LFS and APS do not provide data on seasonal migrant workers as the surveys do not sample those who have lived in the UK for less than 6 months.

To estimate the proportion of seasonal migrant workers in non-agricultural sectors in Scotland, a targeted sampling approach was used to yield greater precision than a random sampling approach. However, given the limited availability of data on the seasonal migrant workforce, this approach is indicative of the industry sectors where there may be a higher prevalence of seasonal migrant workers.

To inform the sampling frame, we focused on APS data which indicates the industry sectors in which there is a higher prevalence of non-UK nationals working in low-skilled occupations on temporary contracts.

Our sampling approach involved setting targets on industry sector, business size, and location.

Sectoral targets are based on:

  • 1000 completed interviews overall
  • a confidence interval of +/- 5% at the 95% confidence level for each sector
  • a minimum sample size of 30 for the smaller industry sectors

The APS proportions for migrant workers, in low skilled and temporary work have informed the sample targets for industry sector. The target and achieved sample profile is displayed in Appendix B.

Questionnaire design

The survey questionnaire was 5 minutes in length, and included a range of questions primarily aimed at gaining data on total emloyment of the firms and the share of seasonal wokers employed by firms. For the purposes of the study, seasonal migrant workers, were defined as follows:

Seasonal migrant workers are persons who have moved across an international border and have been employed by a country other than their national or home country for only part of a year because the work they perform depends on seasonal conditions.

Questions were then asked to obtain a profile of the workers employed e.g. in terms of gender, nationality, skills, and hours and days worked. A small number of attitudinal questions were asked to assess the impact of Brexit on the recruitment and retention of staff, and changes experienced by the business in the last three years.

Logic checks and extreme values were not permitted within the survey script to minimise error.

The survey questionnaire was piloted among 40 businesses prior to undertaking the main stage fieldwork for the study. As a result of the pilot, a number of minor refinements were made to the survey script.


Fieldwork took place between the 1st of July and the 2nd of August 2019 using a mixed-mode survey approach combining online and telephone interviewing methods, in total 177 interviews were completed online and 890 by telephone.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research was carried out with employers as well as seasonal migrant workers.

The qualitative research among employers was designed to meet aims 2 and 3 of the study, importantly to identify the scale and nature of the challenge presented by the UK's departure fromthe EU, including any changes tofree movement , and explore the extent to which this may impact businesses who employ seasonal migrant workers. Qualitative research among seasonal migrant workers explored the living and working conditions of workers and reviewed how Brexit may impact their future plans.

Given the low numbers of firms reporting that they employ seasonal migrant workers (n=40) within the non-agricultural sectors, fresh recruitment was required to conduct the qualitative elements of the research. As the prevalence of firms reporting seasonal migrant workers was low (3.7%) the recruitment proved challenging. This is related to the basic assumption underlying the study that the patterns of employment within the non-agriucltural sectors would follow the same patterns found within the agricultural sectors. Instead there is a more complex picture in terms of employment patterns observed outside of the primary industries. For this reason, we broadened the scope of the qualitative element to temporary migrant workers as opposed to those who are strictly "seasonal". A small number of EU/international students (n= 4) undertaking temporary employment were also included in the sample.

A combination of one-to-one interviews and focus group discussions were conducted between July and October 2019. In total, 8 manager interviews and 27 seasonal migrant worker interviews were conducted. 18 workers and 5 manager interviews were conducted face-to-face, the remaining interviews were carried out by phone or Skype.

The profile of the interviews is shown in the table below:

Gender Managers Seasonal and Temporary Migrant Workers
Male 4 11
Female 4 17
Sectoral profile
Hospitality 5 11
Food processing 1 2
Fishing 1 8
Forestry 1 7
Rural 6 22
Urban 2 6

Interpreting the findings

Quantitative data

Quantitative data identifies the prevalence of particular views among the population group and identifies differences in opinion by key demographic variables. Throughout the report, differences between variables are commented upon only where we are sure these are statistically significant i.e. where we can be 95% certain that they have not occurred by chance.

Where percentages do not sum to 100%, this may be due to rounding, the exclusion of 'don't know' categories, or multiple answers.

Aggregate percentages (e.g. "satisfied/not satisfied") are calculated from the absolute values. Therefore, aggregate percentages may differ from the sum of the individual scores due to rounding of percentage totals. Throughout the report, an asterisk (*) denotes any value of less than half a percent and a dash (-) denotes zero.

Qualitative data

When considering the findings from the qualitative elements of the research it should be borne in mind that qualitative samples are designed to ensure that a range of different views and experiences is captured. It is not appropriate to draw conclusions from qualitative data about the prevalence of views or experiences among the population group. As such, quantifying language, such as 'all', 'most' or 'a few' is avoided as far as possible when discussing qualitative findings throughout the report. Qualitative data helps to explore, and gain deeper understanding of attitudes, issues, and reasonings on social policy issues.


The research relied on employers' reported prevalence of seasonal migrant workers within their business, as opposed to workers' self-reported employment as is done in the APS/LFS.

The focus of the study on seasonal patterns of employment as specified by the Invitation to Tender may have precluded the reporting of temporal migrant employment in some business sectors such as construction where the "season" has stretched over several months which may have limited the functionality of the term seasonal when describing employment patterns in this sector. Indeed, the study has been conducted in the backdrop of an expansion of temporary, zerohours and fixed term contracts which apply to migrant labour in Scotland.

The overlap between temporary and seasonal patterns of employment was raised in the sampling approach as a potential challenge to the research. Many of the assumptions underpinning the sampling were based on temporary employment, as this is the main data source that is available through the LFS/APS. However, there are definitional differences between seasonal and temporary employment which was reflected in the survey question wording which narrowly focused on seasonality.

Seasonal migrant workers are persons who have moved across an international border and have been employed by a country other than their national or home country for only part of a year because the work they perform depends on seasonal conditions.

Therefore, by focusing on seasonal migrant workers, there may be an underestimate of transient, temporal migrant workers in Scotland.

We tested this consideration in the qualitative research and found that within the non-agricultural sectors there is a more complex picture in terms of employment patterns with a mix of migrant workers undertaking seasonal, casual, and temporary employment as well as students undertaking work in the Summer months. Therefore, there is a more varied ecosystem of migrant employment outwith the agricultural sectors which is in part related to the flexibilities that flow from free movement as well as the other routes for migrant employment such as Tier 5 Youth Mobility. This is also impacted by the vastly different nature of the industry sectors that we are grouping as non-agricultural within the research, this includes sectors as varied as fishing and forestry, banking and finance, construction and energy and water, these all have differing employment patterns.



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