UK extends truck driver visa program to ease pressure at the pump as fuel crisis persists
By Sourced Externally
October 5, 2021
The UK government has extended an emergency visa program for truck drivers, after fuel shortages showed few signs of easing this week in London.
Britain is short thousands of truck drivers, in part caused by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic
5,000 temporary visas for foreign truck drivers will be extended until February 2022
The Petrol Retailers Association says the decision is not “a major panacea”
The government said it hoped to recruit 5,000 foreign truck drivers on temporary visas, which will run until the end of February, instead of expiring on Christmas Eve as originally planned.
The Christmas Eve cut-off was criticised last week for not being attractive enough to entice foreign drivers.
The government said 300 fuel drivers would be able to come to the UK from overseas “immediately”, and stay until March.
Some 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food-truck drivers will last from late October to the end of February.
In another bid to ease the pressure at the pumps, around 200 military personnel, which includes 100 drivers, will be deployed from Monday to help to relieve fuel supply shortages that have caused empty pumps and long lines at filling stations.
The government insisted the situation was improving.
“UK forecourt stock levels are trending up, deliveries of fuel to forecourts are above normal levels, and fuel demand is stabilising,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said.
“It’s important to stress there is no national shortage of fuel in the UK, and people should continue to buy fuel as normal.”
However, the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent filling stations, warned that fuel supplies remained a problem and could be getting worse in places.
Opposition parties are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recall parliament next week to address labour shortages and disruptions to supply chains.
In recent months, many companies have reported shortages while supermarket shelves have also looked barren, and fears have grown that they will not be stocked as usual in the run-up to Christmas.
In an attempt to stave off a shortage of Christmas turkeys, the government also announced that a total of 5,500 foreign poultry workers would be allowed into the UK from late October, and would be able to stay until the end of the year.
Mr Johnson’s pro-Brexit government is keen to downplay talk that the driver shortage is a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU).
However, when the country left the economic orbit of the EU at the start of this year, one of the bloc’s main tenets — the freedom of people to move within the EU to find work — ceased to apply.
With Brexit, tens of thousands of drivers left the UK to go back to their homes in the EU, adding further pressure to an industry impacted by long-term staffing issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, prompting thousands more EU drivers to return to their home countries.
Meanwhile, the UK’s series of lockdowns has also led to difficulties in training and testing new domestic drivers to replace those who left.
The pandemic also accelerated the number of British drivers choosing to retire.
Relatively low pay, changes in the way truck drivers’ incomes are taxed and a scarcity of facilities like toilets and showers have also diminished the job’s appeal to younger workers.