The United Kingdom will grant temporary visas to more than 10,000 foreigners to work as truck drivers and in the food industry, in an attempt to ease a supply-chain crisis and pre-empt a Christmas logjam.
The move is a major departure for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. Britain overhauled its immigration system after leaving the European Union in January 2020 to end what it called “an over-reliance on cheap, low-skilled foreign labor”. However, in a significant course reversal this weekend, UK offered thousands of visas to foreign truckers to combat a driver shortage that has left some supermarket shelves empty and caused long lines at gas stations. There has even been speculation that military personnel could be called to drive trucks.
Britain’s business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said on Sunday he was temporarily exempting fuel companies from “the Competition Act 1998 for the purpose of sharing information and optimising supply”.
After Britain completed the final stage of Brexit in January, employers have not been able to freely recruit European workers, as was previously the case. The pandemic has further exacerbated the problem that stems from a long-term shortage of truck drivers in UK.
The British Department for Transport said in a statement that “5,000 HGV drivers will be able to come to the UK for 3 months in the run-up to Christmas, providing short-term relief for the haulage industry. A further 5,500 visas for poultry workers will also be made available for the same short period, to avoid any potential further pressures on the food industry during this exceptional period”.
Britain has been grappling with a string of shortages. Many supermarket chains have experienced panic-buying and are running out of goods. Restaurant chains such as Nando’s, McDonald’s and KFC have cut items from their menus. The crisis has reached Britain’s gas stations, resulting in long lines at the pumps.