Boris Johnson has been accused of ignoring the needs of Scotland’s fishermen by an Orkney crabbing crew he met earlier this year.
Skipper Ronnie Norquoy, who met the prime minister on board his vessel in Stromness in July, has expressed “bitter disappointment” over the decision to tighten immigration rules – despite recommendations from experts to the contrary.
Home Secretary Priti Patel last month rejected recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee to add fishermen, along with a series of other occupations, to the UK’s shortage occupation list (SOL), which helps migrants get work visas to fill jobs where there are not enough native applications.
Explaining the decision, Ms Patel said the UK Government needed to “pause and assess” how the jobs market responds to the pandemic and the introduction of a new points-based immigration system following Brexit.
‘Bitterly disappointing’ decision
Mr Norquoy, in a letter to the prime minister, said: “It was a pleasure to have your interest in our family business of sustainably caught crab and lobster.
“While aboard, I expressed with you the challenges we face as a business. It is therefore bitterly disappointing to learn of the recent decision by the Home Office on foreign crewing.
“I am writing to you to urgently reconsider the impact of this critical issue.”
He added: “I understand the severe impact the pandemic has had to jobs across the UK. However, fishing vessels have continued to operate throughout. The need for our skilled deckhands remains longstanding and unchanged.
“Between my two vivier crabbers, I employ 15 non-EEA crew, which forms the majority of my workforce. Over the 15 years I have operated the business I have always encouraged local crew.
“However, the reality within the fishing industry today is we cannot survive without foreign crew. Many of my crew have been with us for years and have become very skilled at their job.”
Mr Norquoy ended by saying: “There can be gains from the UK becoming an independent coastal state again for the fishing industry.
“This, however, will only be felt if the government listen to the needs of fishermen and businesses like mine. We urgently need assurance that non-UK deckhands will be rightly classed as skilled workers.”
‘Government needs to get out of their way’
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has said he will raise the issue directly with the prime minister.
He said: “Many in the fishing industry have been willing to give Boris Johnson the benefit of the doubt but they are still waiting for action on crew visas.
“If the government does not deliver on this issue then many others in the Northern Isles and elsewhere will start to voice their frustration about a visa system that punishes those who follow the rules.
“Fishermen need access to skilled deckhands and the government needs to get out of their way.
“I am asking for a commitment on behalf of fishermen like Mr Norquoy that when the new immigration system is put in place there will be an official recognition of the needs of the fishing industry.”
Mr Johnson, responding to the concerns at prime minister’s questions, said: “I had a wonderful morning on that crab boat, they had fantastic, prodigious quantities of crab – they were selling to China, as I recollect.
“I will make sure that the Home Secretary is immediately seized of the matter and we take it forward.”