Nearly 22,000 fruit pickers are employed each year under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme – an initiative targeted exclusively at Romanians and Bulgarians.
But farmers fear that when access restrictions to the UK are lifted for the two countries at the end of the year, Romanians and Bulgarians will ditch fruit picking in favour of “hotels, pubs and Tesco”, said Professor David Metcalf.
Mr Metcalf, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), also revealed that the National Farmers Union wants to widen the scheme to workers from outside Europe. His comments came as the MAC recommended, for a second year, that the number of engineering jobs on its “shortage occupation list” is increased.
The list comprises occupations with shortages across the entire UK or in Scotland only, which overseas workers are needed to fill. The latest additions include nuclear safety case engineers, railway signal engineers and video games designers, the MAC said.
However, the overall number of specialist jobs needing to be filled by workers from outside the Europe is falling as a range of health sector jobs were removed.
The MAC refused requests to add some more unusual jobs to the list – including a £36,000 a year “chick sexer” role, which sees workers determine the sex of as many as 1,200 day-old chicks an hour.
The MAC will report in March on its research into the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.
Temporary curbs were imposed on Romanians and Bulgarians in 2005 to protect the UK labour market, but those curbs expire in December and under EU laws cannot be extended.
The Government has refused to provide an estimate on the number of Romanians or Bulgarians expected to come to the UK, but migration campaigners have said it could be as many as 50,000 a year for the first five years.