01 May 2009

UK visas for sheep shearers given fast-track clearance

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The UK visa applications for sheep shearers have been given the green-light for fast-tracking through the UK visa approval process. According to the National Sheep Association (NSA), the UK government has promised it would work to prevent a shortage of shearers for the impending season.

For weeks now the UK visa process has been the centre of debate for contractors, shearers, and the government, because under the new rules for UK immigration sheep shearers on their usual cyclical route from Australia and New Zealand to America then the UK were going to face trouble having their UK visa application removed.

The new rules meant that Kiwi and Aussie sheep shearers in the US would need to return home to have their visa granted, and would have to wait up to three months to have their UK visa application granted.  While sheep shearers would obviously lose money from this plight, in terms of time off work and flight costs, there is also the possibility that the tough restrictions on new UK immigration system would prevent them from actually getting a UK work permit.  This means, potentially hundreds of sheep shearers would be unnecessarily adding to the job markets at home when they are needed most in the UK. 

Fortunately, the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have responded to pressure from industry syndicates and have promised the fast-tracking of sheep shearer's UK visa applications, bringing the process from 12 weeks to a maximum of three.  Shearers already working in Europe or America have also had the law removed requiring them to return home to have their UK visa application granted.

The NSA chief executive Peter Morris said that the results are a positive step towards protecting the livelihood of sheep and their farmers.

"This is excellent news as there was a very real concern that many of the UK flock would not be shorn this year if the New Zealand and Australian shearers were not able to enter the country, the welfare implications were huge and the difficulties faced by all UK sheep farmers would have been immense," he said in a statement. 

In a letter to DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn the Conservatives agricultural spokesperson Jim Paice said: "As a result of the points-based system for skilled work applicants, we are facing a real shortage of sheep shearers.

"Without experienced and competent shearers to undertake this important job, millions of sheep could be left with heavy coats and vulnerable to increased disease and discomfort."

According to The Farmers Weekly Interactive, while usually 500 foreign shearers typically have their UK visa application approved by now, only one shearer had signed the paperwork by April.

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in UK visa and immigration services.

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