Labour shortages have spread far and wide across a number of industries, including one of Scotland’s most important – the seafood processing industry.

With consumer demand for seafood increasing, especially in the US and Asia, and the Scottish government implementing measures to further grow the financially beneficial sector, companies are looking for any and all options to fill open positions. Finding workers is especially important as the industry readies for the festive season. If last year’s salmon sales figures of £1.2 billion are any indication of what’s to come, companies must be ready for a similar surge.

In a recent media article Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Salmon, commented: “The increasing demand for Scottish salmon in Asia is a clear testament to its outstanding quality and taste. This demonstrates the extraordinary global success story of Scottish salmon which we can all be immensely proud of, and we are all benefitting from through thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds for the economy.” He added: “We want to help the next generation of young people and are a leading provider of modern apprenticeships and other training opportunities.”

One of the best paths for finding workers who will help seafood companies meet domestic and global seafood demand is via workforce-related schemes which provide access to skilled staff.

Currently, the visa options available under the Seasonal Worker Scheme are the following:

  • Horticulture for up to 6 months - for example, picking fruit and vegetables or flowers
  • Poultry from October 2 to December 31, in the same year

Workers need to apply for poultry Seasonal Worker visas by November 15 each year and for horticulture Seasonal Worker visas at any time of year.

The Seasonal Worker visa already supports the agriculture, horticulture and poultry industries in Scotland by helping manage labour shortages. Workers on this visa can stay in the UK for up to 6 months for horticulture work and from October 18 to December 31 each year for poultry work.

However, as the government expands the number of temporary visas allowed under the Seasonal Worker Scheme by 10,000 in 2024, many are calling for seafood processing workers to be added to the scheme.

Indeed, Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid MP has written to the UK government calling for inclusion of seafood workers to improve labour availability for Christmas and New Year. Mr Duguid said the visa requirement for the onshore processing sector would be, at most, in the “very low thousands”.

If the government does agree to include seafood processors in this scheme, the process would still require several steps. First an overarching body – scheme operator – would have to apply for a Sponsor Licence. This overarching body would need to be endorsed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and licensed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

Individual employers and organisations aren’t eligible for a sponsor licence on this route, even if they are licensed as a sponsor on other routes.

In terms of eligibility, workers will need to have a sponsor and meet other requirements. These include holding a certificate of sponsorship reference number from a UK sponsor, having enough money to support themselves in the UK (or a sponsor who will certify they will support them instead) during their first month in the UK, and assurances that the job meets minimum wage and working hours obligations.

Until Scotland has enough workers to meet the increased demand, it seems only sensible to tap into an overseas talent pool that can help sustain and grow its thriving seafood industry.

Kathleen O’Donnell is a director at Fragomen, a leading firm dedicated exclusively to immigration services worldwide. Kathleen, who has been working in immigration for 23 years, advises companies and individuals – including those based in Scotland – on the best routes to bring people to the UK or retain them here. Fragomen has 6,000 immigration professionals and support staff in 60 offices around the world and offers immigration support in more than 170 countries.