Only a score of overseas haulage drivers have been hired under the UK’s temporary visa scheme announced last month to relieve supply chain pressures.
Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party co-chair, told broadcaster LBC News 20 of the 300 applications received for heavy-goods vehicle drivers have been processed so far. While they are already out on the road, the overall interest has been “relatively limited”, he said.
“I expect this number to increase over time,” Dowden told LBC.
The UK government said in September it would issue 5,000 visas from October to overseas HGV drivers up to Christmas Eve. A subsequent announcement from the Government extended the visa scheme to 28 February.
In a separate programme, Westminster has granted visas to 5,500 poultry workers up to New Year’s Eve in a bid to ease labour shortages in that sector.
Brexit has been a factor in both areas, while Covid-19 has also led to foreign workers leaving the country. The pandemic has also caused a backlog of people in the UK waiting to take lorry driver tests.
Dowden told LBC the Government has drafted in military testers to help “streamline” the process of getting more drivers on the road. The British Retail Consortium has estimated there is a shortage of 90,000 HGV drivers.
“Over the longer term, we need to get more people driving HGVs. That’s why we are investing more and streamlining that process. In fact, it’s why we have got military testers also helping us with this. The best way to solve this is getting people in this country to train as HGV drivers,” Dowden said.
The Guardian newspaper, meanwhile, reported a Government minister as saying the scheme’s recruitment process was not fully underway and it would take three weeks to issue the visa documents.
In a letter to MPs seen by the publication, Kevin Foster, the future borders and immigration minister, said the Home Office was “currently making the necessary changes” to immigration rules, adding that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was “standing up the operators to begin recruitment”.