Carmichael fishing visa chaos Carmichael community engagement mpa Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael challenges fishing visa restrictions saying, “Why can the Home Office not just get out the way?”

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael challenges fishing visa restrictions saying, “Why can the Home Office not just get out the way?”

“Why can the Home Office not just get out the way?” Carmichael challenges fishing visa restrictions

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has pushed back on the “meaningless” changes to visa requirements for fisheries workers made by the Home Office in a debate in Parliament this week.

Despite recent changes to put fishing deckhands on the Shortage Occupation List for skilled worker visas, ministers have refused to relax English language requirements making it difficult for fishermen to access the crew they need, leaving many boats unable to go to sea. Speaking in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, Mr Carmichael warned that fishermen in the isles and elsewhere risk going out of business if the Home Office does not change course, citing cases in both Orkney and Shetland.

Mr Carmichael said:

“We need a system that actually respects the rights of those who keep our coastal and island communities growing and thriving, and that respects the rights and entitlements they have as workers in our economy, rather than just pushing them sidewards into the shadows.

“Fishermen have to compete not just with [other] industries but with decades of teachers, careers advisers and commentators telling people that the fishing industry has no future. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the local fleet in Shetland, there are fantastic examples of young skippers taking on big commitments.

“That brings us to the English language requirement. The concession that has been made is absolutely meaningless if we insist that the crew who are to be employed under it are capable of achieving that level of English language qualification.

“The first example is a family with two vivier crab boats. They have worked hard, they have saved, they have borrowed to invest and they have grown their business to provide for the family. He was fishing with fixed gear, within the 12-mile limit, until the day that his ability to do so was withdrawn. The gear is still sitting there because he cannot get the crew to go out and shift it.

“The other example I offer is a Shetland fisherman who bought his boat some years ago. The boat and the quota together cost him around £1.4 million. He still owes the bank just south of £700,000. If he has to go outside the 12-mile limit, he will be catching a much more mixed fishery—haddock, cod, ling and saithe. He is not allowed to catch cod, ling and saithe, because he only has quota for haddock. Because of the discard rule, he is also not allowed to get rid of them. That is the vicious circle that leaves fishermen having to tie their boats up at the shore.

“If there is no fishing, fishers will doubtless go out of business, and that income will be lost to the community as those families will no longer be able to make money for themselves. If the boats do not go out to sea, no fish will come into the factories to be processed. In that way, the effect of this decision ripples out through every fishing community in this country.

“We are asking for a simple tweak to a fairly small piece of legislation that will not make a massive difference to the number of people coming here. The people who come here to fish in my constituency are not coming to stay, because their families are still at home in the Philippines or Ghana. They come here to fish for six, eight or 10 months at a time, and then they want to go home. They come here and make good money working in an industry that looks after them and offers them opportunities.

“It is good for them and good for us. Why can the Home Office not just get out the way and let them do it?”

On Thursday, Carmichael challenged Fisheries Minister Mark Spencer on the issue of“meaningless” claims by ministers to be helping fishermen access much-needed workers.

Speaking during Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions and during a statement on net migration figures, Mr Carmichael called for an answer on the number of fishing boats tied up due to lack of workers because of government policies, with no answer forthcoming from ministers.

Speaking in the House Mr Carmichael said:

“Those of us who represent fishing communities hear every week of boats that have had to tie up as a consequence of their inability to get crew, because of the Home Office’s refusal to give a bespoke visa scheme for getting crew. We all hear it. Can the Minister assure me that his Department is actually counting the number of these boats, and can he tell the House what it stands at today?”

Responding, the Fisheries Minister Mark Spencer MP said:

“He will be aware that we have been able to get fishermen on to the shortage occupation list. The Home Office has conceded on that so that those people can now make use of that process. We shall continue to have conversations with both the fishing industry and the Home Office to try to help the industry.”

Later, in a government statement on rising legal immigration numbers, Mr Carmichael said:

“The Immigration Minister seems to be making a very good case of increased wage inflation. I wonder what his colleagues in Treasury would make of that. Sector after sector, whether it is agriculture, hospitality, fishing, care services, all tell us that they need access to more skilled staff and they simply do not have that at the moment.

“The minister stands at the despatch box and talks about adding fishing to the shortage occupation list, but he completely ignores the fact that the Home Secretary’s refusal to lower the English language skills that are required renders that absolutely meaningless to the fishing industry. As a result, fishing boats in my constituency and around the coast are tied up today.

“When is he going to start listening to business – and when did the Conservatives stop doing that?”

Responding, the Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick MP said:

“The case that I was making was that we sustainably increase productivity by encouraging our employers to invest in their workforce rather than reaching for the easy lever of international labour. With respect to the fishing sector we have made changes this week that have been broadly welcomed by the fishing sector.”

Reacting after the exchanges, Mr Carmichael said:

“The Conservatives keep pushing policies that would do immense damage to businesses, the NHS and our economy, all in pursuit of pledges they made knowing they would never be able to keep them. Fishermen and other businesses short on workers in the isles are paying the price.

“The idea that much-needed fisheries workers – skilled in their own right – should be rejected for work because they cannot write an essay on Dickens or Shakespeare is the definition of a one-size-fits-all Home Office policy failing businesses. Ministers are deaf to the problems they have created – they are not even counting the boats affected. Until the Tories unplug their ears things will only get worse.”

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