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UK to issue 10,500 temporary visas to help ease supply chain issues in lead-up to Christmas

·3-min read

The British government announced on Saturday it will deliver more than 10,000 temporary visas to lorry drivers and poultry workers to help ease supply chain issues in the lead-up to Christmas.

The Department for Transport said that it will issue three-month visas to 5,000 lorry drivers to provide "short-term relief for the haulage industry" and another 5,500 to poultry workers "to avoid any potential further pressures on the food industry during this exceptional period."

It also aims to train 4,000 people as new heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers with the help of examiners from the Ministry of Defence.

Some petrol stations have had to close in recent days because there are not enough qualified drivers to distribute fuel around the country. There have also been reports of empty supermarket shelves due to supply issues.

The industry says it's short of tens of thousands of lorry drivers.

The COVID pandemic, an ageing workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Brexit have all been cited as reasons.

New immigration rules introduced after Brexit mean EU citizens can no longer live and work visa-free in the UK.

The Road Haulage Association had urged the government in June to ease visa rules to help improve the situation.

Britain’s farming and food processing industries, which are short of fruit-pickers and meat-packers, have made similar requests.

Westminster resisted, saying British workers should be trained up to take the jobs. It has stressed that Britain is not short of fuel, but that has not stopped motorists forming lines at petrol stations to fill up just in case.

The package of measures unveiled on Saturday by the Department for Transport also includes a scheme to train 4,000 people as new HGV drivers.

The government is unblocking £10 million (€11.7 million) to create "skills bootcamps" to train 3,000 people during "free, short, intensive" courses. The other 1,000 people will be trained in local courses funded by the government's adult education budget.

To hasten the process, Defence Driving Examiners will be deployed to increase the country's testing capacity over the next 12 weeks.

Sporadic supply chain issues at supermarkets and other shops over the past few weeks were also attributed to a lack of delivery drivers.

BP and Esso shut a handful of their stations in Britain this week because there were not enough truckers to get gas to the pumps. EG Group, which operates about 400 UK petrol stations, said it was limiting purchases to £30 ( €35).

In a statement, the government said Britain had “ample fuel stocks.”

“But like countries around the world, we are suffering from a temporary COVID-related shortage of drivers needed to move supplies around the country,” it said, not acknowledging Brexit as a factor.

The head of the Confederation of British Industry, Tony Danker, said the driver shortage was in part “a Brexit hangover”

“We had several drivers go home that we wouldn’t have wanted to go home, and I think there is this bigger question of the immigration system, and it’s a complicated one,” he told the BBC.

Danker said easing visa rules would be “a huge relief”.

“It’s a shame the government needed queues at the pumps to move, but move I hope they have, and it will help,” he said.

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