The UK will issue truck drivers and poultry workers up to 10,500 temporary work visas to alleviate chronic staff shortages, the government announced on Saturday to change immigration policy after Brexit.
The short-term visas, slated to be in effect from next month through late December, come as ministers seek to address a shortage of drivers and other key workers that has impacted fuel supplies and additional industries.
A shortage of tanker drivers has resulted in long lines at gas stations in recent days as people ignore requests from the government not to panic buy fuel after some gas stations closed for lack of supplies.
The decision to expand the critical worker visa system is a reversal of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government tightened immigration rules after Brexit and insisted that Britain’s dependence on foreign labor must end.
The government had resisted the move for months, despite an estimated shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers and warnings from various sectors that supplies would be scarce.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted that he act “as soon as possible” and that a broader package of measures announced would ensure that the pre-Christmas preparations “stay on course”.
“Industry must also do its part to ensure that working conditions continue to improve and the increases they deserve to be sustained so that companies can retain new drivers,” he added.
The new measures will focus on rapidly increasing the number of new domestic drivers and will include sending in Department of Defense driving examiners to conduct thousands of additional tests over the next 12 weeks.
In the meantime, the Department of Education and partner agencies will be spending millions of pounds to train 4,000 people to be truck drivers and creating new “Skills Boot Camps” to expedite the process.
In addition, nearly 1 million letters are being sent to all drivers with a truck driver’s license asking anyone who is not currently driving to come back to work.
Johnson was under increasing pressure to act after the pandemic and Brexit combined exacerbated driver shortages and emerged other crises, including escalating energy prices.
The shortage of truck drivers not only threatens timely fuel supplies, but has also hit UK factories, restaurants and supermarkets in the past few weeks and months.
The US burger chain McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes and bottled beverages last month, the fast-food giant KFC had to remove some items from its menu, while the restaurant chain Nando’s temporarily closed dozens of branches due to a lack of chicken.
Supermarkets also feel the heat. The frozen group Iceland and the retail king Tesco warn of a shortage of Christmas products.
‘It is ridiculous’
This week it was the turn of the fuel sector as more and more cars clog the entrances to gas stations after some closings and panic buying, particularly in the south east of England.
The drivers were less than reassured on Saturday when queues formed again for fuel.
Mike Davey, 56, had waited more than half an hour to refuel at a Tesco gas station in Kent, southeast of London.
“I just want to get some fuel to get to work. People are like filling canisters – it’s ridiculous, ”he told AFP.
“Maybe they need to bring some army drivers,” added Davey.
The government has so far resisted calls to send soldiers to deliver gasoline directly.
As part of the announced measures, taxpayers will continue to help pay for some adult truck license applications, which can cost thousands of pounds, through an adult education budget fund over the next academic year.