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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/seasonal-workers-pilot-request-for-information/seasonal-workers-pilot-request-for-information
1. December 2020 update
On 22 December 2020, the government announced an extension to the Seasonal Workers Pilot for 2021, with an expanded quota of 30,000 places.
On 6 March 2019, the government announced the commencement of the Seasonal Workers Pilot for 2019 and 2020 (the Initial Pilot), enabling the recruitment of a limited number of temporary migrants for specific roles in the horticultural sector.
Two Operators for the Pilot, Concordia and Pro-Force Limited, were selected in pursuant to a Request for Information (RFI) process.
On 22 December 2020, the government extended the Pilot for a further year, with an expanded quota of 30,000 places (the Extended Pilot), giving rise to the need for an additional two operators.
The Extended Pilot will continue to be managed by the Home Office under the T5 (Temporary Worker) Seasonal Worker immigration route.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the endorsing government department and is responsible for setting some of the key parameters. Defra is also responsible for selecting two further Pilot Operators, through an RFI process, as laid out in this document.
This RFI seeks two new companies to select as Operators of the Extended Pilot for 2021. They will join the current Operators (Concordia and Pro-Force Limited), subject to Home Office approval, to comprise four total Operators of the Extended Pilot for 2021.
This document sets out the details of the Extended Pilot and Defra’s expectations of Operators. It also requests information from any organisation wishing to operate under the Extended Pilot in 2021 to enable Defra to assess their suitability.
Once selected, Defra will endorse the two new successful Pilot Operators to the Home Office. The Home Office will review Defra’s endorsed Operators and, if they agree, the two new Operators will be permitted to apply for a license to run the Extended Pilot in 2021.
The full list of questions for potential Extended Pilot Operators can be found at Annex A . Responses must be submitted by 29 January 2020, in line with Sections 12 and 13, in order for the application to become an Operator of the Extended Pilot to be considered.
Potential Pilot Operators are required to evidence a number of minimum standards in their responses to some of the questions in Annex A, including:
- compliance with GLAA regulations
- capability to provide Pilot workers to growers and employers across the UK
- adequate systems, processes and policies to deliver the Pilot to the standard required by the Home Office
Full details of the process, rules and questions may be found below and at Annex A.
Defra reserves the right to amend and update the requirements that the successful Pilot Operators will be expected to satisfy.
Organisations seeking to become Pilot Operators will be informed of any such changes in writing and will, where necessary, be given opportunity to provide further supporting evidence.
3. List of definitions
|Final Scheme Proposals (FSP)||The proposals for the two new Pilot Operators selected by Defra must be submitted to the Home Office for final approval. These proposals must be accompanied by a letter of endorsement from Defra.|
|Pilot||The Initial Pilot and the Extended Pilot.|
|Pilot Operator||A licenced Operator of the Pilot, who will sponsor migrants for UK visas.|
|Potential Pilot Operator||Any party responding to Defra’s Request for Information.|
|Pre-2013 SAWS (SAWS)||The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme that the Home Office ran from 1945 to 2013.|
|The Extended Pilot||The extended Pilot for 2021 allowing 30,000 temporary migrants to enter the UK for seasonal work in the edible horticulture sector, under the new Temporary Worker route of the immigration system.|
|The Initial Pilot||The initial two-year Pilot from 2019 to 2020 allowed a limited number of temporary migrants to enter the UK for seasonal work in the edible horticulture sector, under the new Temporary Worker route of the immigration system.|
4. Indicative timetable
This timetable may be subject to change.
|Deadline for request for clarification of questions||8 January 2021|
|Deadline for Responses||29 January 2021|
|Decision on Pilot Operators||12 February 2021|
|Pilot Operators submit FSP to Home Office||5 March 2021|
|Home Office accepts or rejects FSP||19 March 2021|
|Licencing of Operators||April to June 2021|
5. Defra contact point
Any questions should be sent to the following address, with ‘RFI’ in the subject: email@example.com
6. Selection process
The process for selecting two further Operators of the Extended Pilot is set out below.
Defra identifies the Pilot Operators
(i) All organisations who meet the mandatory requirements and who wish to operate the Extended Pilot are invited to respond to the RFI questions at Annex A, which will allow Defra to assess:
- the capability of the organisation to deliver the Extended Pilot
- whether they believe the organisation is able to satisfactorily meet the immigration control criteria required by the Home Office
- whether the organisation is able to meet the additional criteria on providing effective service to the sector, as defined by Defra
(ii) From these organisations, Defra will select the two Potential Pilot Operators who score the highest in their responses to the selection criteria and authorise them to provide Final Scheme Proposals (FSP) to the Home Office.
The Potential Pilot Operator provides Final Scheme Proposal
(iii) The selected Potential Pilot Operators will then submit an FSP to the Home Office. The FSP will require a detailed summary of how the Operator proposes to select, sponsor and monitor migrants, and adhere to all Home Office requirements in practice, including those on migrant safety and welfare. Each FSP will build on the Potential Pilot Operator’s RFI response.
The FSP must be accompanied by a letter of endorsement issued by Defra. Defra will only provide a letter of endorsement if:
- the FSP is consistent with the organisation’s responses to the RFI
- the FSP is consistent with any other requirements Defra makes
- the organisation is on track to submit its FSP to the Home Office within the period specified by Defra
The Home Office makes the final decision on the final scheme proposal
(iv)The Home Office will review and make a final decision on the FSP.
(v) If the FSP is approved, the Pilot Operator will be announced. Before they begin to operate, they will need to apply successfully for a sponsor license. Further information may be found on our UK visa sponsorship for employers page.
7. Description of the pilot
The Extended Pilot will be managed on behalf of the Home Office by four licensed Pilot Operators, two of which have already been selected during the Initial Pilot. The details of the Extended Pilot are set out in the section below.
7.1 Differences between the Pilot and pre-2013 SAWS
Potential Pilot Operators may be familiar with the pre-2013 Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), so it is important to highlight the key differences between SAWS and the Pilot.
- SAWS was a contractual arrangement between the Home Office and SAWS operators. By contrast, the Extended Pilot will be operated under the terms and conditions of the immigration system. There are different routes in the UK’s immigration system. Each route has varying associated conditions and mandatory eligibility requirements [footnote 1]
- The Extended Pilot will be managed by four Pilot Operators, while SAWS had nine operators
- Under the Extended Pilot, the Operator may not source labour for themselves, only as a third-party provider, whereas in the pre-2013 SAWS growers were licensed to recruit their own labour
- The Extended Pilot is a scheme designed to trial a new system for managing migrant seasonal workers
- Pilot Operators will have some additional obligations and duties under the Extended Pilot. The full list of obligations for the Extended Pilot are set out in Annex A
7.2 Size of the Pilot in 2021
The Extended Pilot will have a total of 30,000 visas available in 2021. This is an increase from 10,000 in 2020.
The Extended Pilot does not seek to provide all of the horticultural sector’s required seasonal labour for 2021, rather to test an approach and to supplement domestic UK labour, which was previously provided by EU and UK workers in 2019 and 2020.
From 2021 the UK will have a new immigration system and only EU workers with settled status may take up or travel to the UK for seasonal roles below skill level RQF 3.
Defra has conducted extensive research on the demand for seasonal workers in the sector and has identified that approximately 50,000 workers are employed seasonally on UK farms.
The government believes it is crucial that the sector must show greater urgency in modernising its business practices through automation for labour substitution and the recruitment of domestic UK workers. The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and resulting travel restrictions led to the increased recruitment of UK workers in 2020, and this must continue into the future as we move away from a heavy reliance on low skilled overseas workers. Having considered the availability of domestic workers, including those EU nationals with Settled Status, the government has concluded the appropriate number of visas under the Extended Pilot in 2021 to be 30,000.
The number of available visas will be reviewed during 2021, with a view towards helping the sector transition to a future state based on automated technologies and a motivated domestic workforce.
7.3 Number of Operators in 2021
The Home office has concluded the appropriate total number of Operators for the Extended Pilot is four.
Pilot Operators may not source workers for their own use, only as a third-party provider. Operators will source workers that may then be accessed by any qualifying farm or business, ensuring fair access to Pilot workers across the sector and UK.
The purpose of the Extended Pilot is to:
- pilot a new immigration route for seasonal workers in the horticulture sector
- test the Pilot’s ability to alleviate some of the shortages of seasonal workers in the horticulture sector, by allowing four Pilot Operators to sponsor the entry into the UK of migrant seasonal workers for up to 6 months, in 2021
The objectives of the Extended Pilot are to:
- test the Pilot’s ability to mitigate seasonal labour shortages in UK horticulture
- provide seasonal labour across the UK, so that all parts of the UK benefit from the Pilot
- determine if the Pilot might provide a longer-term model for responding to seasonal labour shortages in this sector
- assess the capability of the industry to manage the Pilot effectively
- assess the impact of the Pilot on local communities
- ensure that the Pilot provides for robust immigration control
- ensure that the Pilot adequately protects migrant workers from modern slavery and other labour abuses
- ensure that the monitoring and reporting regime adequately informs the Home Office and Defra of the operation of the Pilot
- assess the financial impact of the Pilot
The benefits of the Extended Pilot will be to:
- mitigate seasonal labour shortages in the horticulture sector across the UK. As with the pre-2013 SAWS, the Pilot aims to alleviate shortages, but not supply all necessary labour
- gather information to inform a possible approach for seasonal labour for 2022 and beyond
For the purposes of the Extended Pilot, workers may be sourced for employment that meets the following three criteria, which are outlined in detail below:
- sector (edible Horticulture)
- seasonal work
- listed activities
Defra has decided the Extended Pilot will only cover horticulture – in particular edible horticulture – as this is where significant seasonal labour shortages are being reported.
For the purposes of this time-limited Pilot, based on consultation with policy experts and industry representatives, Defra proposes the following sector definition:
The Extended Pilot will allow the recruitment of seasonal labour for work within the edible horticulture sector. Defra defines the edible horticulture sector to include the following:
- protected vegetables – those grown in glasshouse systems
- field vegetables – those grown outdoors, including vegetables, herbs, leafy salads and potatoes
- soft fruit – those grown outdoors or under cover e.g. in glasshouses or polytunnel. Includes strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and all ribes and rubus species
- top fruit (orchard fruit) - trees that bear fruit e.g. apples, plums, cherries, apricots
- vine and bines – both twining or climbing flexible stems of certain plants, e.g. hops is a bine, and grapes is a vine
- mushrooms – typically covers Agaricus bisporus species but can also include more exotic species. Typically grown indoors
The scope may be revised in the future.
8.2 Seasonal work
Seasonal workers may only be used for seasonal roles. For this Extended Pilot, Seasonal work is defined as: “Employment which fluctuates or is restricted according to the season or time of the year.”
Defra proposes the following activities be included within scope of the Extended Pilot – and therefore possible to recruit seasonal workers for – within the above edible horticulture sector.
- crop maintenance
- crop harvesting
- tunnel construction and dismantling
- irrigation installation and maintaining
- crop husbandry
- packing and processing of crops on employer’s premises
- preparing and dismantling growing areas and media
- general primary production work in edible horticulture
- activities relating to supervising teams of horticultural workers
Activities not deemed appropriate are those:
- that require labour all year round, and are therefore not seasonal
- work predominantly in offices or other administrative spaces
9. Allocation of certificates of sponsorship
Pilot operators will receive licenses allowing them to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to Pilot workers, allowing them to apply for visas under the new Temporary Worker route.
The allocation of CoS between the four pilot operators will be determined at the point at which operators are granted a licence.
The quota of visas is likely to be divided between the four Pilot Operators in a manner that ensures visas are available across the full year. It is likely, but not guaranteed, that each Pilot Operator will receive no less than 6,000 visas. Defra also reserves discretion to increase allocations as necessary.
10. Defra’s selection of pilot operators
Responses to the RFI will be scored by a panel of Defra officials. Defra will endorse the two new Potential Pilot Operators whose RFI responses score the highest using the scoring outlined at Annex A. The scores for the questions will then be multiplied by the weighting to give a weighted score for each question.
Consistency of pilot proposal with RFI responses
Potential Pilot Operators should take care to ensure that they can implement the terms of their RFI responses in practice. If a Potential Pilot Operator is selected to provide the Home Office with an FSP, they must ensure the FSP is consistent with their responses to the RFI.
Defra will not provide a letter of endorsement for a Pilot Operator whose FSP is inconsistent with its RFI responses, unless those inconsistencies have been agreed with Defra in writing.
Confirmation of outcome
Defra will write to Potential Pilot Operators indicating whether or not they were successful in obtaining endorsement from Defra. Defra will invite the two successful Pilot Operators to prepare an FSP for submission to the Home Office.
11. Defra monitoring and reporting
Listed below is the information that the Potential Pilot Operators will be required to provide to Defra and the Home Office, to allow the effective monitoring and evaluation of the Extended Pilot:
- GLAA licencing details
- number of applicants
- number of workers recruited
- length of stay of workers
- number of early leavers
- hours of work done by migrants
- what they were paid
- total tax and NI paid
- number of GP and hospital visits
- a summary of sick days taken
- aggregated demographic data on workers
- the farms with which migrants have been placed (their name, location and contact details)
- a breakdown of how many migrants were provided to each UK region [footnote 2]
- type and location of accommodation used to house workers for the duration of the Pilot
- type of transport options used by workers to get to work, if applicable
- evidence migrant worker has returned to source country before expiry of visa
- a breakdown of the operator’s financial outcomes from the Pilot including:
- revenue from placing Pilot workers
- costs of recruiting and managing Pilot workers
- any other costs related to operating the Pilot
- the profit and loss associated with operating the Pilot
- Any other relevant information that the government deems necessary to successfully assess the Pilot
Defra expects the Pilot Operators to work cooperatively with the Home Office and Defra under appropriate governance arrangements.
12. Instruction for completion of the RFI
You should check the clarification questions and answers document before completing the RFI.
Potential Pilot Operators are invited to submit responses to the attached RFI at Annex A, together with any requested supporting information, to Defra by 29 January 2021 for return in accordance with the procedures set out in the section below entitled “Submission of Completed Requests for Information”.
Electronic responses should clearly indicate which section and specific questions are being answered. Please ensure that all questions are fully completed in English.
Any submissions without a complete set of responses may be deemed non-compliant and therefore excluded from further consideration. Potential Pilot Operators should answer all questions as accurately and concisely as possible in the same order as the questions are presented without any changes to the wording of the question.
Where a question in Section A or B is not relevant to the Potential Pilot Operator’s organisation, this should be indicated by confirming N/A (Not Applicable) with an explanation as to why this is.
Potential Pilot Operators must be explicit and comprehensive in their responses to this RFI as this will be the single source of information on which responses will be scored and ranked. Potential Pilot Operators are advised neither to make any assumptions about their past or current supplier relationships with Defra or the Home Office, nor to assume that such prior relationships will be taken into account in the evaluation procedure.
Please keep your responses to sections C-E below 5000 words in total. All text beyond the 5,000-word limit will be removed as part of the compliance checking process before it is evaluated.
The information supplied will be checked for completeness and compliance with the instructions before responses are evaluated. Failure to provide the required information, make a satisfactory response to any question, or supply documentation referred to in responses, within the specified timescale, may mean that a Potential Pilot Operator is not invited to participate further. In the event that none of the responses are deemed satisfactory, Defra reserves the right to terminate the process and begin a new selection process.
Not all questions require supporting documents up front. However, Defra may ask to see these documents at a later stage, so it is advisable you ensure they can be made available upon request. You may also be asked to clarify your answers or provide more details about certain issues.
13. Submission of responses to the request for information
The closing date for submissions is 29 January 2021.
In your response to the RFI, please clearly indicate against your responses the relevant section and question number.
Please submit one signed electronic copy of your response to Defra. Electronic copies and digital files should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Potential Pilot Operator shall ensure that the electronic RFI response is received by Defra no later than 16:00 on 29 January 2021. An automatic reply confirming receipt should be received when the Potential Pilot Operator’s response is submitted. If no such reply is received, the Potential Pilot Operator should check the email address and resubmit.
RFI responses received after the closing date may be rejected.
14. Commercially sensitive information and Freedom of Information
In accordance with the obligations placed on public authorities by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), which provide a public right of access to information held by public bodies, Defra may disclose information submitted to Defra by Potential Pilot Operators.
If the Potential Pilot Operator considers any information which it supplies to be commercially sensitive or confidential it should complete the schedule of Commercially Sensitive Information set out in Annex B and:
- clearly identify such information as confidential or commercially sensitive
- explain the potential implications of disclosure of such information
- provide an estimate of the period of time during which the Potential Pilot Operator believes that such information will remain confidential or commercially sensitive
Where a Potential Pilot Operator identifies information as confidential and/or commercially sensitive, Defra will endeavour to maintain the confidentiality of that information, and will, where practicable, consult with the Potential Pilot Operator before information relating to that Potential Pilot Operator is disclosed pursuant to a request for information under FOIA and/or EIR to establish whether an exemption from disclosure may apply.
However, even where information is identified as being confidential or commercially sensitive, there may be circumstances in which Defra may be required to disclose such information in accordance with the FOIA or the EIR. In particular, Defra is required to form an independent judgment concerning whether the information is exempt from disclosure under the FOIA or the EIR and whether the public interest favours disclosure or not. Accordingly, Defra cannot guarantee that any information marked “confidential” or “commercially sensitive” will not be disclosed and accepts no liability for any loss or prejudice caused by the disclosure of information.
If a Potential Pilot Operator receives a request for information relating to this selection under the FOIA or the EIR during the selection process, this should be immediately passed on to Defra and the Potential Pilot Operator should not respond to the request without first consulting Defra.
15. Notification of outcome
Defra will write to all parties that provided RFI responses notifying them of the outcome of their response.
A good introduction to the UK’s immigration system is set out in the The UK’s points based immigration system briefing paper ↩
For these purposes, the UK regions are: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. ↩