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.

International literature and evidence review

The international literature and evidence review was designed to consider seasonal migrant worker schemes, these encompass both non-agricultural and agricultural migrant worker programmes. This reinforces the finding that seasonal migrant labour is most concentrated within the primary industries, as has been identified by the qualitative research.

Seasonal Workers' Schemes

Seasonal workers' schemes combine immigration law (i.e. regulation of entry and stay in a territory) with labour law (i.e. governance of the rights of workers), often creating tension between the differing objectives. In practice emphasis is typically placed on immigration regulation with less attention directed towards upholding the rights of workers – the location of the governance of seasonal worker schemes is of utmost importance in determining the balance between immigration policy and labour law[12]. Correspondingly a major tension for seasonal work is to ensure an adequate level of rights for workers, protecting them against exploitation and upholding basic human rights while ensuring that appropriate flows of migrants, the costs of participating for employers, both monetary and non-monetary, are not prohibitively high (Ruhs 2002, Ruhs and Martin 2008). In the best type of seasonal worker scheme, workers have no intention of moving permanently, instead 'circular migration is a preferred strategy' (Hugo 2009, 31).

Defining seasonal work and seasonal migrant workers

DEFRA defines seasonal work as 'employment which fluctuates or is restricted according to the season or time of the year.' The European Commission understands seasonal work as activity that is tied to a certain time of the year by a recurring event or pattern of events linked to seasonal condition. The International Organisation for Migration defines a migrant as 'any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence.' This is irrespective of their legal status; the voluntary/involuntary nature and cause of movement; and length of stay. Economic migrants may move from place to place in search of work and their permanent residence moves with them. Seasonal agricultural workers are individuals who are employed in temporary farm work, related to seasons. They do not move from their permanent residence, rather they migrate to the host country for the duration of their seasonal work, and then return home. In this context, this type of migration is labelled circular migration and refers to workers circulating between home and host society. Seasonal workers may or may not return year after year depending on various factors, including the law in the host country. There is typically no pathway to citizenship and the restrictive nature of seasonal worker schemes means that they are considered to be inherently exploitative.

For the purposes of the report, seasonal migrant workers are defined as "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."

The term temporary migrant workers is also used in the report to refer to "employment undertaken by a person in a State of which he or she is not a national, for a time limited period either a fixed-term, on a project-specific- basis, or task-based contract. This term encompasses derivative terms such as casual workers, guest workers, and overseas contract workers" (ILO 2019).

Global patterns

The case of African workers in Spanish agriculture during the 1980s and 1990s although dated, remains seminal and proficiently raises questions about the aims of migration policy. African migrants filled a gap during a time when the Spanish economy was much more buoyant and when people could afford to hold negative views of farm related labour. Those farm workers provided a significant plug to a labour shortfall during a time when there was an exodus of the Spanish workforce (Hoggart and Mendoza 1999). They did not enjoy economic or social mobility, but even so they filled a niche that followed from allowances made by state policy . . . [which] provided relatively easy entry into farm work for foreign labour (Hoggart and Mendoza 2000, p. 13). They had to rely on the generally relaxed attitude of the Spanish government regarding working conditions and the distribution of work permits (Hoggart and Mendoza 2000, p. 13). Although the migrants maximised their income and they supported knowledge transfer and investment in their home country, fundamentally they had a precarious existence. These same legal systems in Spain, as well as in Italy, were found to institutionalise exclusion through the creation of quota systems for immigrant workers that are limited to sectors shunned by the indigenous population and where low wages and poor working conditions prevail (Calavita 2005, p. 156; Calavita 2007). A similar pattern can be found for other countries, including South Africa and Australia (Kritzinger et al. 2004; Krivokapic-Skoko and Collins 2014). More widely, research on the international hotel industry has shown how the foreign born seasonal workforce is more vulnerable than the local one, due to the segmentation of the labour market and to stereotyping and discrimination (Baum 2012)

Below we elaborate on theSeasonal Agricultural Workers' Program (Canada), the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (New Zealand) and the UK pilot Scheme. Proposed schemes in Germany and the EUs Seasonal Workers' Directive are described briefly in Appendix One with summary points identified below.

Seasonal work in Canada

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Program (SAWP[13]) operates under bilateral agreements between Canada and participating countries (Mexico and 11 Caribbean countries). It was created in 1966 with an agreement with Jamaica but has since been subsumed within the more wide reaching Temporary Migrant Worker Programme (TMWP), established in 2002, which is global in nature as it does not specify participating countries (Gabriel and Macdonald 2018). An overview of the TMWP is provided following a summary of requirements of the SAWP.

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Program (SAWP)

A Memorandum of Understanding outlines the obligations of the Canadian state and of the sending countries. Broadly the Workers are recruited by the sending countries and consular representatives from sending countries stay in Canada operating as contacts for employers and employees and intervening in contract negotiations. Foreign governments are responsible for selecting workers and for ensuring that the men and women selected to work temporarily meet all of the requirements of programme. For instance the Mexican labour office identifies suitable workers for the programme and selects workers based on criteria set out by the Canadian government (Hennebry 2012). This means that the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) are experienced in farming, at least 18 years of age and a citizen of one of the participating countries. Other obligations of foreign governments are to:

  • ensure that the TFWs are able to satisfy the:
    • Canadian immigration laws; and
    • laws of the worker's home country.
  • make sure workers have any other necessary documents;
  • recruit and select the TFWs;
  • maintain a pool of qualified workers; and
  • appoint representatives to assist workers in Canada.

Recruitment costs for workers can be high. Traditionally at least, many of the workers employed come from Mexico, incurring debts to pay their way. This can create problems if they have to return home before a debt is paid or if the recruitment agent has made false promises about the job.

Temporary Migrant Worker Programme

The TMWP includes "high" and "low skilled" avenues, the "low skilled" stream, called the Low Skill Pilot Project (LSPP), is relevant for inclusion in this review. So significant has temporary work become in Canada that Strauss and McGrath (2019) report how in 2008, for the first time, the number of non-permanent residents entering the country (399,523) exceeded the number of permanent immigrants (247,243). It is argued that this reflects a wider shift in migration policy to manage migration so that skilled workers are admitted as potential citizens and unskilled workers remain as non-citizen (ibid). Alongside the large increase in the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada, arising mainly from the shift away from bilateral agreements as characterised by the SAWP, has been an increase in precarious employment (Preibisch 2010, Strauss and McGrath 2019). Employers are supposed to be unable to find Canadian citizens to undertake the work – they are required to submit substantial evidence in this respect - but there has been evidence of employers relying on Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in places of relatively high unemployment. Following reform of the TMWP, the employment of TFWs is capped as part of the government's strategy of ensuring that employers provide positions to Canadians.

All streams within the TFWP are time limited, with agriculture limited to eight months in any twelve month period (so long as they can offer a minimum of 240 hours of work within a 6 week period or less. Specific commodity sectors are included and activity must relate to on farm primary agriculture). Other schemes allow workers to remain for 12 months, renewable annually up to a period of four years after which they must return home for four years, the 'four in, four out' rule. Workers rely on sponsorship by a specific employer and they are tied to employers. Employers are required to provide a contract of employment, affordable accommodation that meets specific standards and they must ensure that those workers have state or private health insurance. Employment legislation in most occupations is covered under provincial/territorial legislation that deals with labour and employment standards.

Wages should be similar to those paid to Canadians, although the state recognises the need to pay differential wages for people doing different jobs or for those with more experience and skills. Charging recruitment, travel and immigration fees to workers is illegal, but practiced widely (Hennebry and Preibisch 2012). The state further determines the position of migrants by limiting access to public goods, including welfare, housing and education. This makes for a very precarious existence indeed as workers have little negotiating power, are prevented from joining a union and are tied to their employer (Tucker 2012 in Preibisch and Otero, 2014, Prebisch 2010). Employers, meanwhile assume a position of power. The literature describes how employers can exploit their position by threatening job loss, deportation and criminalisation (through actual or imagined breaches to the terms of their work permit) (Strauss and McGrath 2017).

Depending where seasonal workers are living, they may be reliant on employers for transport to the shops for groceries, etc. The treatment given by employers in this regard or treating workers to a soft drink/restaurant meal was an important factor for individuals in considering if they would return next year (Binford 2002). There is a general hesitancy by workers to complain because they have a lot to lose (Preibisch 2010). The SAWP provides a crash course on what a double day is like: that is, spending all day doing a paid job before returning home to cook and clean. This has an implication for the, often women, who are left back home and who find that they have new roles to learn. The mental stress can be considerable, depending on the conditions that the workers are living in and the degree to which they are worried/concerned about family at home.

One of the key differences between the SAWP and the TMWP is the role of recruiters. In the former, the bilateral nature means that the recruitment and placement of workers falls under the bailiwick of the sending and receiving state (Hennebry 2008). The expansion of the programme has created tensions between different streams and opportunities for third party agencies. Part of the problem with having similar programmes, that is different pathways to employ seasonal workers, is that employers can and do engage in competition for workers, 'country surfing' if they are dissatisfied with the performance of workers or other aspects such as the government agent (Preibisch and Binford 2007). Not only does this place downward pressure on workers' wages, but it can also create competition between groups based on gender, race or country of origin, resulting in the segmentation of the labour market (Preibisch 2010, Hennebry 2012, Hennebry and Preibisch 2012). We return to the issue of recruitment and third parties later in this review.

Seasonal Work in New Zealand

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme came into effect in New Zealand in April 2007 following discussions held with industry in 2005 and replacing the Seasonal Work Permit (2005-7)[14]. Industry and the state had recognised a shortage of seasonal workers. The fact that this has been led by industry in consultation with government has been cited as one of the reasons why it has been more successful than the Australian seasonal worker scheme (Bedford et al. 2017). Another key reason is that prior to the introduction of the scheme, measures were taken to remove undocumented workers (who had been prevalent in horticulture and viticulture) through raids and deportations (Brickenstein 2015). Employers who employed undocumented workers were used as exemplars of bad practice and exposed through high profile cases and this continues to be the practice (ibid, Bailey 2019). In their defence, employers claimed that workers were in short supply and they took any workers they could access. This raises a critical point for the implementation of a successful seasonal worker scheme which is whether there is an actual shortage of seasonal labour or if it is perceived. Additional questions include: to what extent are farmers able to recruit irregular workers without having to face severe sanctions? If the response is that this is easy then it is fairly certain that a certain percentage of farmers will use this cheaper source of labour. Sanctions are therefore a very important component of a seasonal worker scheme.

The RSE scheme is internationally recognised as a best practice managed circular migration programme (Gibson and McKenzie 2010), although it is not without its critics (see for instance Petrou and Connell 2018, Smith 2015). The significant pastoral support provided through the scheme is a distinguishing feature of RSE and has largely been added following gaps in earlier iterations of the scheme. The New Zealand government recognises the need to contribute beyond support when workers are in New Zealand and it works with sending states on issues including re-integration of workers back into home communities.

The RSE scheme allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers, reflecting the New Zealand first policy. By emphasising the human side of migration through a substantial pastoral support system, it also responds to concerns about the poor and illegal business practices of labour contract companies hiring overseas migrant workers (Ball et al. 2011). Employers pay a bond per worker to deter workers from overstaying their visa. To date, the only Pacific workers on the limited-purpose RSE (and SWP) visas to have absconded in any numbers are Tongans. This is something that government officials in Tonga, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, are keen to address (Bedford et al. 2017). Five so called 'kick-start' countries were initially identified as providing labour for the scheme, but provision was made to source labour from further countries if necessary. Workers must be over 18 years of age and can work for seven months during an eleven month period (exceptions being Kiribati and Tuvalu where it is nine months due to the distance). The scheme was originally capped at 5000 when introduced, but the cap has risen steadily due to its success. At November 2018 up to 12,850 workers were permitted. Unless employers can show they have pre-established relationships with workers from other countries, they may only recruit workers under RSE policy from the current nine eligible Pacific countries. The fact that most of the workers coming to New Zealand through the scheme are from a rural area and fully understand the type of work that they are expected to do has been deemed as being important in its success (Bedford et al. 2017). Any decision to raise the cap for RSE workers is made by the Minister of Immigration, whereas decisions on total regional allocations are made by Immigration New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development in consultation with industry.

RSE workers are an important labour source, comprising less than 40 per cent of the temporary workforce during peak seasons. The remainder of the seasonal workforce is comprised of New Zealanders, working holidaymakers ('backpackers') and international students (Bedford et al. 2017). In July 2014 New Zealand introduced a new seasonal worker scheme for local workers who are offered the same working conditions as Pacific seasonal workers (Lotu-Iiga, 2014) The state carefully monitors RSE through a range of mechanisms including employer surveys and work carried out between employers and employees with Local Labour Inspectors, Compliance Officers and Relationship Managers. There is a Relationship Manager on the North and South Island and their sole purpose is to mediate and manage relations between the main stakeholders, including workers, employers and government (Curtain 2019). Relationship Managers are independent of Immigration New Zealand and are responsible for supporting the horticulture and viticulture sectors in the regions and for protecting the integrity of the RSE policy, ensuring that New Zealanders get the first opportunities for jobs.

Participation in the scheme requires that employers firstly apply to the New Zealand Department of Labour for recognition as a Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE). This entails meeting a number of conditions including completing an Agreement to Recruit and supporting workers' visas applications (Immigration New Zealand). Indeed one of the criticisms directed at the scheme was that the requirements placed on employers were too onerous. Clearly, the cost of participating in the scheme cannot outweigh the benefits to the employer and research has indicated that overall participation by employers in the RSE scheme is positive (Bailey 2019). From 2009 joint ATR were introduced which means that employers can share costs of recruiting workers and workers can move between employers. For instance they may prepare for olive harvests by placing nets, moving on to another grower to pick cherries before returning to complete the olive harvest. This has allowed smaller scale businesses to participate and it has reduced stress for RSE workers who have reduced possibilities of downtime – their financial obligations continue even if they are not earning any money (Bailey 2019). Workers receive information on RSE rights and responsibilities. Workers must meet health and character requirements and provide evidence of arrangements to leave New Zealand at the end of their stay.

Immigration New Zealand must be satisfied that the employer has good workplace practices, including compliance with employment and immigration law, and that they are committed to training New Zealanders. They will be provided with support and advice on standards and obligations and conditions, including significant practical support around helping to orientate new arrivals (Immigration New Zealand). Employers are monitored closely and agree to be audited against RSE instructions. Other stipulations include compliance with minimum remuneration and employment agreements need to be clear about hourly rate (which must not be less than the market rate) and, if relevant, piece rate. Remuneration varies depending on whether workers are employed for a period of more or less than six weeks[15]. Pay deductions must be for actual, reasonable and verifiable costs (thus maximum amounts are not specified). Despite this, the deductions including weekly rates for shared accommodation have been criticised as being excessive (Brickenstein 2015) and finding suitable accommodation has been cited as one of the biggest challenges of pastoral care duties (Bailey 2019). Employers responsibilities do not end with direct employment issues but extend to wider welfare and pastoral care, including mandatory health insurance, the provision of safe and suitable accommodation and on-site facilities for their workers. A long list of requirements constitute 'pastoral care' and include an induction programme, transportation to and from the worksite, necessary language translation, access to personal banking and the opportunity for recreation and religious observance (Immigration New Zealand). Finally employers are liable for repatriation costs up to NZ$3000 (approximately £1500) per person for workers to be sent back to their home country if they have breached their visa conditions.

The New Zealand government has been monitoring the RSE scheme from 2008 to determine its effectiveness in meeting the needs of horticulture and viticulture growers. Specifically it has sought feedback from employers across a range of issues including recruitment of workers; workers' performance; relations between seasonal workers; health and safety issues; and impacts of participating in the scheme. The evaluation of RSE compares employers within the scheme and those who use seasonal workers from other routes such as the Working Holiday Scheme[16] and the Supplementary Seasonal Employer Visa[17].

Since the 2010 survey, almost all RSE employers have agreed that participation in the RSE scheme has resulted in a more stable seasonal workforce than in previous years and better quality and more productive workers. It has been found to contribute very positively to business development through raising productivity levels due to a steady supply of seasonal labour, ultimately contributing to business growth. For example, one survey found that RSE had increased production by 32 per cent in 2013[18]. The scheme has created opportunities to employ more New Zealand workers, including unemployed New Zealanders who are referred through Work and Income New Zealand (Bedford et al. 2017). The triple win that is strongly associated with seasonal worker schemes is strongly promoted as part of the RSE scheme as one manager comments 'The RSE scheme is so much bigger than just bringing workers to New Zealand. It has provided mainly Pacific workers with invaluable experience and the chance of being able to send money back to their communities at home' (Immigration New Zealand). It is estimated that more than 40 per cent of the take home income is remitted back to the Pacific, this being used on housing and education. However this differs across different Pacific Islander groups and between different types of individuals – older and married workers remit larger amounts of money, although there is little difference between the overall amount that is earned between different age categories (clearly if development is a key objective of the scheme, then it does not make sense to target younger workers). The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade funds a support programme in the regions where RSE workers are employed, covering English language skills, financial literacy, health and life skills training (Bedford 2013). Existing research points to investments by employers in the host society including support for water pumps and investment in public services buildings (Bedford 2013; Bailey 2014). However, participation in the RSE scheme is not a given for everyone. It is in some cases a community decision requiring connections and financial capital and compliance with local stipulations around participation e.g. abstinence from alcohol (Bailey 2019). Bedford et al. (2017) claim that a full cost-benefit analysis of participation by Pacific workers in the RSE initiative has not been undertaken.

The question of returning workers is an important factor in the success of the scheme; it is integral to the design and it also helps to ward workers off overstaying the duration of their visa. There is significant evidence of continuity within the seasonal workers' pool - 70 per cent or more of Pacific workers in 2018 had worked for the business last year as well, and this is similar to the 2017 result (Maguire and Johnson 2018). It means that workers understand much more about the nature of the work, their relationship with the employer and are familiar with the local area and its community. As well as workers' capitalizing on new skills, employers can take advantage of the training that their workers have had, building up a skilled and reliable pool of labour, all of which contributes to business efficacy. Evidence from New Zealand suggests that workers' productivity increases in general over the first three or four seasons, after which median incomes plateau or decline. Some of this can be explained by the workers adopting a 'kiwi lifestyle' which includes being resistant to employers' instructions and to workers achieving their key goals – they tend to have specific aims in mind such as paying for school fees or paying for a house. Bailey's (2019) longitudinal study of Vanatu workers spanning ten years also indicates the long term benefits to some RSE workers of participation in the scheme.

The ongoing review and evaluation of New Zealand's RSE scheme has been critical in its progressive design and development. Health insurance was initially not mandatory, but after a review and change of policy, all Pacific workers had to take up compulsory health coverage. Following the pilot scheme, a flat tax rate of 10.5% for workers was introduced in 2011 to help streamline the administrative burden, meanwhile accommodation became subject to inspection (Bailey 2019). This recognises that the full suite of social services is not available to migrants (they are not entitled to unemployment or pension benefits).

While there have been quite a few studies examining the material benefits to employees and employers, less attention has been directed towards the impact on non-material issues and the impact on host societies. Challenges include the disruption to rural life in sending countries due to extended absences of adult men and women, differential power relations due to improved financial situations and re-integration of workers who no longer participate in the scheme (Bailey 2019, Bedford et al. 2017). Bailey (2019) describes the local support structures that help care for workers' families left behind. Meanwhile in the host society demand for community services and on other infrastructure can peak at certain times of the year. The impact on social cohesion is not fully understood.

Recruitment is through one of three main options: government agencies (such as a local development unit); directly by the employer or through private agents. New Zealand growers also employ team leaders to assist with the recruitment process. Careful monitoring is required to avoid agents 'double dipping' where they take a cut from both workers and employers (Hugo 2009, 47).

UK Seasonal Workers Pilot[19]

Between 1945 and 2013 a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) provided an immigration route for employers to satisfy labour demands in the agricultural sector. Before the closure of the scheme in 2013, SAWS had reached a quota of 21,250, a fourfold increase from the original 1990 quota (Consterdine and Samuk 2018). The last version of the scheme, in place from 2008 to 2013, allowed fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania[20] to do short-term, low-skilled agricultural work in the UK for a maximum of six months at a time. It was in the main an industry-run scheme with light touch enforcement from the Home Office (Consterdine and Samuk 2018).

All evidence points to a significant shortfall in migrant labour to the UK and the National Farmers Union (NFU) submission to the DEFRA inquiry into labour constraints in the agricultural sector notes that:

  • Labour providers recruited 4,377 fewer workers than needed between January – December 2017. There were no reported shortages in 2016.
  • There has been an average shortfall of 13% across 2017, with September peaking at a 29% shortfall. This is the percentage shortfall of workers needed versus workers recruited.
  • The sector has experienced the lowest annual returnee rate since 2014. In 2017 an average of just 29% of workers had worked a previous season. This is compared to 41% in 2016.

Concordia and Pro-Force are operating the UK Seasonal Workers Pilot which was introduced in 2019. It enables the recruitment of a limited number of up to 2,500 temporary migrants (from Russia, Moldova and the Ukraine) to specific seasonal roles in the horticultural sector for a period of up to six months. If applicants wish to return they need to make a fresh application after a 12 month cooling off period. According to Proforce's website they will assist with visa applications and workers need funds to cover travel to the UK, the visa application and medical and repatriation insurance. Once employed workers will also need to pay for accommodation andliving costs including transport to and from work. The national minimum wage is guaranteed with the expectation that more will be paid for overtime and through bonus schemes.

Unlike the SAWS scheme which was a contractual arrangement between the Home Office and SAWS operators, the Pilot will be managed by the Home Office under the terms and conditions of the migration system, i.e. the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) Seasonal Worker category. It has been developed in line with the ambitions of the hostile environment to control and reduce net migration, so it is unsurprising that it overemphasises the migration regime over the rights of workers. Pilot operators are third party providers, matching workers to farms, and growers participating in the scheme cannot source international labour for themselves. The Seasonal Workers Pilot only covers part of agriculture – horticulture, and in particular edible horticulture (specific details supplied but include soft fruit, mushrooms and orchard fruit) as this is where significant seasonal labour shortages are being reported.

The Home Office is carefully monitoring the pilot and operators are required to report across a range of indicators including demographic data of workers, the number of workers recruited, length of stay of workers, transport options used by workers to travel to work and number of GP and hospital visits. The operators' financial profiles as a result of participating in the pilot will be scrutinised.

Among the criticisms of DEFRAs pilot scheme is that it falls short of the numbers of seasonal workers that are required. 'British Growers chief executive Jack Ward said the British fresh produce sector needed 75,000-80,000 seasonal workers – a number expected to rise to 85,000-90,000 by 2020' (Farmers' Weekly 7th September 2018). The scheme has already fallen prey to a clunky visa processing system, with significant delays reported for workers coming to Scotland.

Other Schemes

The European Seasonal Workers' Directive arose in recognition of the structural demand for seasonal workers in European economies (Fudge and Herzfeld Olsson 2014). It reflects the way in which certain segments of the labour market rely on a malleable and pliable workforce that cannot be sourced from local pools. In principle, third-country nationals coming to a Member State as seasonal workers are entitled to equal treatment with nationals of the host Member State. Meanwhile the German government, in recognition of the shortage of seasonal workers, has indicated that it is considering creating a bilateral agreement with Ukraine. In the interim it has developed a pilot scheme facilitating Ukrainian workers in the German labour market. This represents a pull from East to West as Ukrainian migrants move to Poland and on to Germany, attracted by higher wages and greater overall earning potential (see Appendix One for further details).


Scotland's agricultural sector relies heavily on seasonal non-UK workers, particularly from central and eastern Europe, to meet its labour demand. Kyambi et al. (2018)(conservatively) estimate that there were 9,255 seasonal migrant workers engaged in Scottish agriculture during 2017 (including 900 employed directly by labour providers). About 25% work on more than one farm in the UK and there is also transition to other sectors of work, in particular food processing and hospitality. On average, seasonal migrant workers were employed for just over four months per year, corresponding to the key soft fruit harvest period, but the seasonal pattern of crops in Scotland provided an opportunity for workers to work for extended periods.

For non-UK seasonal workers, the key motivations for working on Scottish farms were earnings potential linked to enhanced quality of life and goals, conditions of work relative to home countries and familiarity, recommendations and farm reputations' (Kyambi et al. 2018). The report highlights some key issues for the recruitment of workers in Scotland post Brexit as articulated by one of the SG respondents:

"Even if you work for minimum wage in Canada, it would be a better standard of living than here I think". (Jakub, 35, Poland, Ayrshire)

The report describes 'a more complicated post-Brexit immigration regime will deprive the UK/Scotland of some of its main advantages over other possible migrant destination countries, both within the EEA and beyond, at least amongst some groups of potential EEA migrants. As part of the EU, some EEA migrants have perceived the UK favourably compared to other EU countries as an English-speaking destination. However, reflecting on the situation once the UK leaves the EU, those with better English language skills and for whom an English-speaking destination is preferable, may compare the UK as a destination with other English-speaking countries such as the USA or Canada which are seen as more attractive'.

Shortcomings of seasonal worker schemes

Seasonal worker schemes, even those upheld as good practice, have not been without criticism and while the review above points to good practice, significant challenges remain. As a minimum these schemes support uneven economic participation in global production processes (Hennebry 2014). A 'fear regime' was identified by workers in Canada who cited constant anxiety and uncertainty arising from abuse in the workplace (Ramirez and Chun 2016). Fear of deportation is very real for some workers who are apprehensive about speaking up against exploitative employment practice (Bedford et al. 2017). Seasonal workers represent a precarious part of the labour market where they are confined to one employer, often living in the places where they also work. Precarity is further compounded by excessive deductions for different costs including transport, accommodation and airfares. Accordingly Petrou and Connell (2018) refer to the fact that although seasonal workers are internationally mobile, they are often locally static, rendered so as a result of institutional structures.

Socially just seasonal worker schemes?

The analysis of seasonal worker schemes draws attention to the competing objectives of different migration policies and the degree to which they are primarily economic or social. Migrants' status as an economic commodity is confirmed when we consider the way in which they are managed through a range of policy instruments and agreements, including guest and seasonal worker schemes (this differs to the free movement aspirations of the EU as a combined social and economic endeavor). Different categories of migrants reflect their mode of entry into the country and correspond to different rights when resident within the host country. The practices of industries, including the agri-food sector, help to create the conditions that demand a flexible and malleable workforce (Lawrence 2011). It follows that the relevant sectors will need to tackle the entrenched use of low-skill, low-paid casual workers (Devlin 2016).

Seasonal work schemes are developed as a safe mechanism for seasonal pools of workers to access the labour market in situations where there is a shortage of domestic labour. By creating a broader spectrum of practice that does not tolerate exploitation, it is one means of addressing labour trafficking. Seasonalwork is generally considered to offer a triple, and even a quadruple win – it gives the host access to a pool of labour, migrants gain new employment opportunities with the opportunity to earn more than they would at home; migrants potentially develop new skills; and sending nations benefit from remittance and wider skills amongst migrants on their return home (Ramasamy et al. 2008). Of course this is presuming that it is delivered in an effective and efficient manner attentive to quality of employment and to the care of seasonal workers; sanctioning those in breach of relevant legislation. Where this fails to happen, seasonal worker schemes can breed bonded labour and exploitation (Consterdine and Samuk 2018). Different schemes bestow different rights and responsibilities on seasonal workers affording them different entitlements when they are in the host society. More than permanent programmes, TMPs can generate geopolitical capital as countries develop mutually beneficial links based on their geopolitical ties and migrants have a vested interest in investing in their country of origin (Peters 2017), as evident in New Zealand's RSE programme.

Brickenstein (2015, p. 108) poses a couple of very relevant questions that can be applied to any sector seeking to create a seasonal worker scheme: What is the ideal level of rights that best meets the interests of both employer and workers? What are the characteristics of agricultural industries and how far can the employment of foreign seasonal workers cater to the demands of these industries? In addition we add: what is the impact on the sending and receiving society? Have policymakers adequately addressed the non-material impact? Ultimately as Consterdine and Samuk (2018) pose: what does a socially just TMP look like?

The role of the state

Hugo (2009) made a strong case for circular migration, arguing that, so long as it is well designed and governed, it brings significant benefits to the individuals concerned. Indeed over the past decade it is one strategy used by Pacific's people to spread the risk of economic failure (Gibson 2015). Notwithstanding the positive story of the RSE programme, gaps have been found in the design and administration of other temporary worker programmes. The state has been found to contribute to the precariousness of workers by creating the conditions that they must comply with (Preibisch 2010, Strauss and McGrath 2019). Upholding and protecting workers' rights and the impact on the sending society is also a major concern within TWPs (Hugo 2009, Bedford et al. 2017). Another major criticism is the lack of access to permanent residency for seasonal workers with arguments made for creating pathways to residency (Preibisch 2007, Lenard and Straehle 2012). Successful TWPs are well supported and carefully monitored by the state, with bad practice highlighted and unscrupulous employers sanctioned.

The governance of TWPs clearly warrants careful consideration. The creation of the European Directive brings into sharp focus the interplay between immigration policy and migrants rights as promoted by the Commission and the Parliament respective. The location of the UK pilot in the Home Office suggests that immigration control is considered to be more important than the rights of workers. This remains to be seen, but experience from elsewhere would indicate that this administrative arrangement is less than ideal: the lead body for regulation and administration of New Zealand's RSE programme moved from immigration to business and so the focus is more on the needs of employers. Significantly other govt agencies are involved, showing how it is about more than immigration and reflecting a deep appreciation by the New Zealand state that seasonal worker schemes are complex entities.

According to Bedford et al. ''best practice' seasonal work schemes are best conceptualised as complex systems of relationships that span individuals (workers, employers, contractors, government officials), organisations (government agencies, industry organisations, unions, insurance companies, accommodation services) and communities (families and wider social groups in the islands and in the destination countries)' (2017, p. 49). Bedford 2017 provides an overview showing the complexity of successful seasonal work schemes in a New Zealand context identifying key stakeholders that include government, employers, communities, workers and their families. Important issues cutting across those groups include industry standards, employment relationships, pastoral care responsibilities and workforce projections.

Towards best practice

There is a general assumption that profit maximising employers will prefer irregular and minimally regulated migrants over regulated alternatives (Castles 2006, Anderson and Ruhs 2010). This principle of 'crowding out' is rejected by Curtain et al. (2018) on the basis of its oversimplification and failure to appreciate the complex system of relationships. Instead they argue that much depends on the 'extent to which regulated employees are more valued than unregulated ones and on the costs of going with the regulated option. The trade‐off employers make between these costs and benefits will vary from sector to sector and country to country' (Curtain et al, 2018, 476).

The New Zealnd RSE programme as discussed extensively above is generally considered best practice and in order to extract some of the key reasons for this, it is worthwhile comparing it to its near neighbour Australia. The Australian Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS), began in 2008 and was designed to enable Pacific Islanders to temporarily work in the horticulture sector and latterly the East Timorese to work in tourism. It has had a very limited uptake of workers not even reaching the pilot cap of 2,500 up to March 2012, despite claims of acute worker shortages and is generally not considered a success (Rochelle et al. 2011; Hay and Howes 2012). This is largely due to the concessions that the Australian government has given to people on Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visas who are prepared to work in rural areas, along with the prevalence of illegal workers in the horticulture industry (Ball 2010; Doyle and Howes 2015). The Australian system is leaky, providing a number of routes for seasonal work as compared to the robust system found in New Zealand. Before implementing a seasonal worker scheme, there needs to be clarity about the actual shortages of hiring seasonal labour. Is it perceived, anecdotal or real? Because backpackers to Australia are willing and able to work in seasonal jobs, the actual shortage of workers is not very large. Experience from Canada shows that different streams allows employers to compete for workers which in turn can place pressure on migrants to be ever more compliant so that they continue to satisfy the demands of their employer. The pathways available to seasonal workers therefore need to be carefully evaluated to ensure that they are not competing with one another. Other influences are at play and require reflection. In addition to the question of alternative pathways, Curtain and colleagues (2018) identify four factors that they argue are relevant when comparing the New Zealand and the Australian schemes – export orientation, costs of regulation, costs of collective action and alternative pathways to seasonal work i.e. backpackers. It follows that the design of a seasonal work programme should give careful consideration to these different dimensions.

Stability and mobility

Most seasonal worker schemes tie workers to one employer which can render them more vulnerable if those employers operate with impunity. In reality the high cost of migrating, which often equates to large debts, limits the mobility of a seasonal worker (Strauss and McGrath 2017). Employers generally prefer employing workers who cannot move around as it minimises recruitment costs. In New Zealand, workers are always employed directly by the employer, but they have flexibility in being able to move between employers (since 2008) whereas in Australia workers employed under the seasonal worker scheme cannot move between employers. They do however have some mobility: in Australia employers are not necessarily the same as the growers, and this has provided necessary flexibility for workers in cases for instance where a grower has gone bankrupt (clarity around the employer is critical). In both the New Zealand and the Australian seasonal worker schemes, trade unions were involved in their establishment. Workers are free to join trade unions, but it has been shown that workers are not always interested in joining with evidence indicating that they did not really understand the idea of a union (Brickenstein 2015). Australian horticultural employers have not yet seen the advantages that New Zealand's RSEs have in employing Pacific workers (Hay and Howes 2012; Doyle and Howes 2015). Such advantages include the stability and security provided to employers each season, through the use of an increasingly experienced RSE workforce, and the associated gains in productivity as workers shift from the learning phase in the first year, to having acquired the requisite skills to perform various tasks on the orchard or vineyard (Bedford 2013). This overcomes the criticism identified in the literature which is that contract labour means that producers tend to be less able to control skills, commitment or employment conditions of workers in order to meet quality standards demanded by supermarkets (Kritzinger et al. 2004).


The nation state remains a key player in TWPs within immigration regulation and practice, however other strategic agents are increasingly prominent, representing both the state and the private sector (Gabriel and Macdonald 2018). According to Castles et al. (2014) 'the migration industry involves a wide range of individuals including 'travel agents, labour recruiters, brokers, interpreters, housing agents, immigration lawyers, human smugglers and even counterfeiters … [and] banking institutions (235). Recruitment is pivotal in the migration industry, with low paid workers paying a higher portion of their wages than high skilled workers for placement. Those working in domestic work, construction, garments and agriculture, are particularly vulnerable to abuse, generally being more willing to accept lower pay and poorer work conditions (Agunias 2013, 4). Recruiters themselves vary greatly 'Some are professional brokers, others are dilettantes – amateurs who become involved in recruitment by accident or as an effect of their social position' (Lindquist et al. 2012, 8). If employers cannot source their labour through legitimate routes they may seek a more illegal supply of labour which typically further elevates the level of worker exploitation further (Consterdine and Samuk 2018).

Rural migration

The structural transformation of rural labour markets across the globe, especially of the agri-food sector has created opportunities for those willing to join a compliant workforce, often working in precarious conditions, for relatively low wages and in some cases making viable, economic enterprises that would otherwise have failed (see for instance McAreavey and Argent 2018, McAreavey 2017a, 2017b, Kasimis, and Papadopoulos 2005). Productivity gains in this sector to have come at the cost of labour, with most studies pointing to a deepening precariousness of farm work (Preibisch 2011). These opportunities have arisen from a productivist economy and a considerable number of international migrants to rural areas move to produce rather than consume.

The experiences of urban and rural migrants are known to differ, not least because of the lack of critical mass of numbers of migrants to rural areas. Migration to rural areas raises a number of issues that are worthy of further investigation, including the capacity of rural society to accommodate the needs of new arrivals; the desire of arrivals to 'fit in' to rural society; the perception of rural space and the relationship between different social groups.

Rural migration is important for modern economies as it has been shown how in many places, including regional Australia, rural US and rural Spain. In some cases the arrival of newcomers has reversed a trend of population decline (Hugo 2008; Johnson and Lichter 2008; Collantes et al. 2014). This is distinct from temporary seasonal migration which alleviates seasonally based labour force shortages. Seasonal workers are often perceived by the local population (both migrants and longstanding residents) as not wishing to integrate because, with no pathway to residency, they are there for a limited period of time. As well as having a differential impact on the local society, the emerging social relations differ among different types of migrants. Many Eastern European migrants to the UK describe having little time to engage in other (consumption) activities within the locality, their leisure arising when they return home to visit friends and family (McAreavey 2017b). Many of these individuals had unknown intentions regarding the duration of their stay. For some the emotional cost of moving outweighed the economic benefits of migration (McAreavey 2017b). This cost is likely to be less sharply felt amongst migrants who move for an indefinite period of time and are intent on maximising production (Bailey 2019).

Distinguishing between different types of migrants is imperative if policymakers are to accommodate their diverse needs as they live in a host society. This includes the difference between seasonal workers and more permanent economic migrants and the different policy objectives behind different migration policies.

Emerging social relations in host societies

Understanding wider social, political, cultural and economic forces is critical if we are to appreciate the capacity of rural society to appropriately accommodate the needs of different types of newcomers including seasonal workers. This includes understanding the differential experiences in urban and rural host societies. For instance in a context of internal migration in Greece, the crisis has reinforced a stereotypical image of the rural as being resilient and as offering a place of refuge. However, it is not this straightforward. Anthopoulou et al. (2017) raise questions that are applicable more widely to migration debates. They show how the lack of wider policies to facilitate social and economic innovations limits the capacity of rural space to appropriately support the needs of newcomers so that they are able to thrive rather than merely survive. This point has particular pertinence in a context of rural society receiving temporary and seasonal workers. We consider migrants perception of rural space and access to local services including religious institutions as a means of shedding light on social relations in migration host societies.

Perceptions of rural space

The perception of what rural space represents among migrants and local residents influences social relations within a host society. There is little agreement in the literature about the nature of social space and the degree to which it is socially conservative. The universality of the English rural idyll has been challenged. There is some evidence of a positive reception to migrants and the transformations that accompany their arrival, but a significant body of research has also revealed more hostile and discriminatory behaviour towards migrants (Popke 2011, McAreavey 2012, Krivokapic-Skoko et al. 2018). Regarding the former, Stenbacka (2018) describes an 'everyday' or 'vernacular' cosmopolitanism whereby individuals act on their feet and organisations go out of their way, bending rules, so that they can support newcomers.

A more negative emergence of social relations is connected to the popular notion that the countryside is a white place and not multi-cultural, indeed that 'whiteness' is a symbol of rurality (see, for example Cloke 2004; Missingham et al. 2006, Lichter 2012, Shortall and Brown 2019). Whiteness, it is argued, can 'protect' against outright racism and discrimination (Chakraborti and Garland 2011; Halej 2014;) as migrants that look similar to the local community are more likely to fit in and be accepted (Eriksen 2002). Mackrell and Pemberton (2018, 54) describe how their research respondents felt 'lucky' to be white as it reduced their vulnerability and prospects of facing discrimination while also supporting their inclusion in everyday life. More and more, the importance of rural ethnic heterogeneity is recognised (Crowley and Knepper 2018). In the context of the USA, Lichter clearly states: 'Immigration and the new ethnoracial diversity will be at the leading edge of major changes in rural community life as the nation moves toward becoming a majority-minority society by 2042' (2012, p. 3). The emerging relations between the host society and different newcomers are not always harmonious. Migrants are often segmented in the labour market and they are also limited to particular spaces within a community ensuring that the 'white' rural is maintained (Nelson and Hiemstra 2008, Panelli et al. 2009). This was very visible in Moore's (2019) study of (white) Eastern European migrants in an English village. At one level they were seen to 'blend in' with the working village image, but at another level, their different shade of white limited their ultimate inclusion and recognition in society thus upholding asymmetric relations as migrants are ambivalently tolerated by the villagers as workers (Moore 2019). This type of tolerance has limited social value: individuals can tolerate one another through gritted teeth, failing to recognise them or their legitimacy as social actors (McAreavey 2015).

Access to local services

One of the weaknesses of non-metropolitan migration destinations is the lack of infrastructure to accommodate diversity (McAreavey 2017b). This includes translation and interpretation services which can be limited by lack of expertise and/or lack of resources. Most TMWP make provision for supporting workers' to access services such as language training, religious observance, with the more progressive schemes building aspects of this into the programme. For instance most require employers to translate key documents into the language of their workers. Generally language provision is part of wider state macro-scale policy agenda to advance the integration of non-seasonal migrants and this is generally provided by third sector organisations (Hoang & Hamid 2016). They provide a safe space for learning a new language and connections they make in those places can lead to other support networks (Mayes and McAreavey 2017).

Civil society has been a very important actor in responding more widely to the needs of recent arrivals supporting migrants as they struggle to find their way through a different administrative system or figure out where to shop for groceries (McAreavey 2012, McAreavey 2017b). Papadopoulos et al. (2018) illustrate the critical advocacy role they providing by using the example of how a third sector organization supported a migrant-led social movement in the strawberry fields of Manolada in Greece.

Religion is important for imbuing a sense of belonging and so can be a powerful support structure for migrant groups who have moved to a new place and who seek social networks. Religion can be an important facilitator for migrant incorporation, such as Filipino migrants to the Australian Bush (Krivokapic-skoko and Collins 2014). In America, migrants became more religious in an effort to retain cultural continuity and to help overcome the trauma that accompanied international migration (Hirschman 2004). Churches provide a place for status recognition and social mobility, achievements that may not be available in a wider social setting. In an urban setting, migrants have greater chances of connecting with their own religious group due to greater numbers of people overall. This is clearly a gap in a rural setting, some of which is filled by civil society organisations (McAreavey 2012). Considerate employers have also been known to help transport migrants to church. Under the New Zealand scheme, employers are obliged to provide opportunity for religious observance (and for recreation).

Even though one might argue that many rural residents do not attend church, 40 per cent of worshippers live in rural areas (as compared to 17 per cent of the population living in rural areas overall) – it is a key feature of rural life (Church Times 2018). It is part of the stable backbone of a secure world where nothing is 'foreign, or accidental or incomprehensible' (Gidwani and Sivaramakrishnan 2003) and many of the values and norms that characterise rural life remain closely connected to the church. English village life is often intertwined with church life and this can create a zone of exclusion for those who are not familiar with the Church of England (Garland and Chakraborti 2009). Rural migrants may have no church to attend if they have a different religion to that of the local church (which is highly likely to be Church of England). Any obvious difference may encourage them to shy away from visible spaces.

Tentative Recommendations for Consideration

1. A rights-based seasonal worker route that is attentive to the needs of workers as well as those of employers creates a more equitable workforce. This includes paying attention to pastoral care.

2. The benefits of participation (for all parties) must outweigh the costs, including the administrative and social burdens. The state has a role in providing extensive support

3. The process of demonstrating an insufficient pool of local workers must be reasonable (both in terms of cost and the timescale covered).

4. Circular routes work well where there are strong connections between sending and receiving states. This helps to build social, economic and cultural capital in both places.

5. Understanding the objective of a seasonal worker route for migrants and for sending and receiving societies is imperative:

6. While some of the literature critiques migration programmes that do not offer a pathway to residency, this is not necessarily desired by migrants.

7. Circular schemes do not offer a pathway to residency. If this is an objective of a policy intervention, then careful consideration needs to be given to how that will be realised.

8. The governance of a route is important for managing tension between immigration control, business development and upholding the rights of individuals. It requires appropriate capacity to ensure smooth operation of an agreed scheme.

9. Appropriate design will support effective monitoring, arbitration and quality control of a route, eliminating abuse and flagrant exploitation of workers. Without the enforcement of sanctions, some employers will act with impunity.



Back to top