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Exodus of Foreign Workers Leaves British Employers in the Lurch

“If the apple starts to go overripe, the skin starts to get greasy and it’s not salable,” Ms. Capper said. “We were struggling to stay ahead of the apples’ ripening, so that the last 100 bins ended up being sent” to juice makers. “This has been the biggest challenge for generations.”

The industry is calling on the government to reintroduce a seasonal workers’ program that was scrapped in 2013 by Theresa May, Britain’s current prime minister who was then leading the Home Office and in charge of immigration. That program, which is run elsewhere in the European Union, allowed non-European migrants to work in Britain on fixed contracts and schedules. Crucially, the pickers were committed to doing the job.

But the British government stopped the program around the same time that the European Union accepted Romania and Bulgaria into the regional bloc. The assumption at the time, farmers say, was that workers from those countries would replace the non-European laborers.

They did — until Britain voted for Brexit.

Now, because of the bloc’s principle of freedom of movement, the Bulgarians that Mr. Mitchell had recruited were free to choose whichever jobs paid best, even those unrelated to farming.

The government has so far rejected calls to reintroduce the seasonal workers program. In a statement, the Home Office said the government did not intend to operate migration schemes for non-European citizens “while employers have access to unrestricted access to labor from elsewhere in the European Union.”

“We do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to justify the introduction of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme this year but we will keep this position under careful, ongoing review,” it added.

For Mr. Mitchell, the Scottish farmer, the issue is urgent and no longer limited to agriculture but to the entire economy. Everyone, he said, is fighting for the same labor pool.

“It’s like the Wild West,” he said. “It’s the survival of the fittest.”

Source: NYT > World

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