DEFRA has announced that up to 5,500 visas will be issued for temporary poultry workers to process turkeys in the run-up to Christmas.
The government also said 5,000 HGV drivers would be able to enter the UK to work, despite warnings from industry of up to 100,000 vacancies.
The government also relaxed quarantine requirements for workers arriving onto farms for specific roles in a separate announcement.
Environment secretary George Eustice said: “It is a top priority to ensure that there are enough workers across the country’s supply chains to make sure they remain strong and resilient.
“We have listened to concerns from the sector, and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.”
The NFU described the move to allow more immigrant workers to support the sector as “a U-turn for ministers who have repeatedly said that they did not want to relax Britain’s stricter post-Brexit immigration laws”.
The union’s vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “We welcome today’s announcement to add HGV drivers and poultry workers to existing visa schemes.
“The NFU has worked with the wider food and drink industry to help evidence the needs of the sector, and we look forward to working with government on applying the scheme for poultry and, in particular, access for smaller producers.
“We will also continue to work with government to find solutions for the wider labour needs, including trained and able butchers for pork production to deal with the increasingly serious build-up of pigs on-farm and the risk of welfare issues.”
British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths added the move was “welcome”.
But he warned that it may have come too late in the year.
“Supply chains are not something that can be simply switched on and off, so plans for production are already well underway and the necessary cutbacks due to ongoing labour shortages have already been made.
“Key workers in food, regardless of where they come from, are an important part of Britain’s cultural fabric and prestige. British food producers keep this country running and must have access to the skills and talent that this country sorely needs to ensure food for all.”