12 Apr 2009

British shearer shortage due to new immigration rules

9:37 pm on 12 April 2009

Britain is suffering a shortage of sheep shearers because tough new immigration laws have made it harder for Australians and New Zealanders to work in the UK.

About 500 professional shearers have in the past made the annual trip to Britain to work on farms trimming the fleece of Britain's 25 million sheep.

However Britain's new Australian-style points-based system for skilled immigrants has meant long delays for shearers waiting for work visas to be approved.

Under the new system, applicants must have biometric details such as their fingerprints included on their work visas.

The National Association of Agricultural Contractors told The Mail on Sunday newspaper that it was taking up to nine weeks for some Australian and New Zealand shearers to get visas instead of less than a month under the previous system.

"The situation is serious and critical," association's executive member Robert Morris told the newspaper.

He said "unless all 500 of the shearers are allowed into the country, we can't shear the national flock in time and we will lose thousands of sheep to diseases and other problems."

But a Home Office spokeswoman said the new system had been designed to process applications "quickly".

"There are no reported delays - with visas normally issued within 25 days or less," she said.