UK eases visa rules for fishermen to tackle worker shortage

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hastings

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will relax immigration rules for fishing industry jobs to address a shortage of workers in the sector, the government said on Tuesday, making it cheaper and easier for overseas applicants to get a visa.

The fishing industry is often seen as a bellwether for the success of Brexit, having loudly supported the cause in the run up to the 2016 referendum. Many have subsequently said exit negotiations had actually left them worse off, with fewer foreign workers and more red tape on exports.

The change comes at a time when immigration is high on the political agenda with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledging to reduce overall legal migration, but with data due later this week expected to show a sharp rise and the government tightening restrictions in other areas.

The government said fishermen, skippers and skilled deckhands on large vessels would be added to a list of occupations where there is a shortage of workers. The decision implements a recommendation by an independent board which looks at the impact of migration on the labour market.

"It is not the purpose of the immigration system to provide a source of workers at pay and conditions which are not attractive to resident workers," a government statement said.

Britain is suffering a broad shortage of workers which the Bank of England has said it worries could be contributing to a rise in inflation.

The new rules will come into effect later this year and will lower visa costs and reduce the minimum salary required.

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Marguerita Choy)