At least 30,000 foreign workers are being sought from countries including Belarus and Russia to come quarantine-free to the UK.
Hundreds of seasonal agricultural workers are being recruited from dictatorial regimes as Britain triples the number of foreign migrants used to bring in the Summer harvest.
At least 30,000 foreign workers are being recruited from countries including Belarus and Russia to come quarantine-free to the UK, despite both nations being under international sanctions.
Ministers decided not to re-start last year’s Pick for Britain campaign to recruit UK workers on furlough despite having spent at least £58 billion protecting 11.4 million UK jobs.
They have instead expanded the scheme from 10,000 last year to 30,000 with more recruits from Belarus and Russia where the economies are so crippled that recruitment agencies are receiving up to five applications for every UK farm vacancy.
Some of the 300 recruits from Belarus are unemployed after losing their jobs for protesting against President Alexander Lukashenko’s “fraudulent” election victory last year, when he claimed 80 per cent of the vote, according to Agropraktika, the regional recruitment agency.
Securing one of the six-month work visas in the UK is the only way to leave the country and offers the prospect of a £300-a-week pay package, treble what they could earn in Belarus for a similar job, said Natalie Babelis, Agropraktika’s manager.
“They love their country and they feel proud that they are Belarusians but they are not happy because of the situation. They cannot grow in their country. They have this opportunity to go to the UK to see and try new cultures. It is like a window for Europe for them,” she said.
The exodus has prompted alarm in Belarus, where a leaked tape in January revealed a spy chief Vadim Zaitsev plotting with the president to poison and kill critics in exile across Europe.
Andrew Wilson, UCL professor of Ukrainian politics and author of newly-published Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship, said job losses and migration involved Belarusians at both the top and bottom end of society.
“The economy was already living hand to mouth in 2010 and they have struggled for a decade with much lower growth which has been compounded by Russia’s own economic problems. People have also lost their jobs over the protests since last August,” said Pro Wilson.
“The result has been plenty of economic and political migrants to many countries but particularly until now to Poland and Lithuania.”
About 300 Russians have been hired through Zoloterra, an agency that partners with Concordia, a designated UK recruiter for seasonal agricultural workers.
“We are recruiting for more vacancies than last year. The exact number will be known only at the end of the season, but it will be several hundred people,” said a Zoloterra spokesman.
“We select from a wide range of applicants, focusing on work experience, motivation and English skills. Currently, the competition is about five people per place, so only the best are sent to work.”
Critics, however, said the Government should be looking to recruit more domestic workers rather than kowtowing to the farming industry’s demand for cheap foreign labour.
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: "Yet again, employers say 'jump' and the Government responds with 'how high?'
“Why not pay a bit more, improve conditions and look locally before targeting the recruitment of those desperate to flee dictatorial countries like Belarus? As for Russia, why wouldn’t poor and jobless people want to escape the clutches of Mr Putin?”
The 30,000 overseas workers are primarily from Eastern Europe including Romania, Poland and Ukraine and are exceptions to the Government’s tougher post-Brexit immigration rules, which prioritise skilled workers earning at least £25,600 a year
They are allowed to start work immediately but have to remain on the farm separate from other workers and take lateral flow tests on days two, five and eight after their arrival.