Only 20 UK visas have been issued to overseas truck drivers who accepted the emergency job offer to avoid empty shelves in the run-up to Christmas, a senior minister admitted.
Oliver Dowden, Chairman of the Conservative Party, said there were a “relatively small” number of people applying for the jobs, with around 300 applications received and “just over 20” fully processed.
It came as the Home Office revealed that it would take three weeks to process the documents, in line with the âcivil service standardâ turnaround time of 15 working days. The confession of Kevin Foster, future Minister of Borders and Immigration, was contained in a letter to MPs, seen by the Guardian, and sparked accusations that the government was not acting fast enough to avert a national crisis .
Faced with the growing shortage of fuel, food and goods last month, it was announced that 5,000 visas would be granted to truck drivers until the end of February, and another 5,500 could be applied for by workers in poultry until December 31. 2021.
Dowden told LBC on Wednesday: âWe have 300 people who have applied for these [HGV] Visa. I believe the number is a little over 20 who actually received them, so are on the road. But I expect that number to increase over time.
Foster suggested that the recruitment drive was not yet fully launched. He said the Home Office “is currently making the necessary changes” to immigration rules, adding that the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) “was lifting operators to start the process. recruitment”.
The Liberal Democrats have raised concerns that there will be little time left for those taking on these roles to dramatically improve the UK’s supply chain woes.
Alistair Carmichael, the party’s home affairs spokesperson, said the lack of progress was “staggering”, especially in light of reports that the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, was being forced to refuse ships from Asia due to a backlog of containers caused by the shortage of truck drivers. He declared: âFaced with a national crisis and the deadlock in our ports, the response of the conservative ministers is too weak, too late. This incompetence will mean more empty shelves and more misery for UK consumers as Christmas approaches. “
Ministers were reluctant to approve more emergency visas for workers to stem the truck driver crisis as they tried to put more pressure on the industry to improve wages and conditions, rather than to be seen to bail it out by providing an influx of foreign labor.
Meanwhile, the shortages of other workers are having a significant impact. Poultry worker visas were issued when healthy pigs began to be slaughtered due to understaffing at slaughterhouses, leaving up to 120,000 pigs stranded on farms long after they should have been slaughtered. And the military had to be called in to help with fuel deliveries after the shortage of truck drivers hit some businesses, causing mass panic buying.