UK extends truck driver visa program as fuel crisis persists

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LONDON (AP) – The British government has extended an emergency visa program for truck drivers as fuel shortages show some signs of ending on Saturday, especially in London and the south-east of England.

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In an announcement late Friday, the Conservative government said temporary visas for about 5,000 foreign truck drivers, which were originally planned, are expected to be admitted in 2022, rather than expiring on Christmas Eve.

The short duration of the program announced last week drew widespread criticism for not being attractive enough to lure foreign drivers.

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The government said 300 fuel drivers would be able to “immediately” come to the UK from overseas and stay until March. Another 4,700 visas for foreign food truck drivers will run from the end of October through the end of February.

In another move intended to ease pressure on Britain’s pumps, around 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, will be deployed from Monday to help ease fuel supply shortages that have led to empty pumps and long lines at stations. Are engaged.

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The government says that the situation is already improving.

“UK forecourt stock levels are rising, fuel deliveries to forecourt are above normal levels, and fuel demand is stabilizing,” Business Secretary Quasi Quarteng said. “It is important to emphasize that there is no national fuel shortage in the UK, and that 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 depleted in places.

“It was worse, if anything, in London and the southeast, and possibly parts of eastern England,” group chairman Brian Maderson told BBC radio.

Maderson welcomed the deployment of military drivers next week but warned it would have limited impact.

“It’s not going to be the major panacea,” he said. “It’s a huge help, but in terms of volume, they won’t be able to carry that much.”

Opposition parties are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recall parliament next week to address a widespread labor shortage and disruption in supply chains. In recent months, several companies have reported shortages, including fast-food chains KFC, McDonald’s and Nando’s. Supermarket shelves are also looking barren, and fears have risen that they won’t be stocked as usual for Christmas.

In an effort to address the Christmas turkey shortage, the government also announced that 5,500 foreign poultry workers would be allowed into the UK at the end of October and could stay until the end of the year.

Johnson’s pro-Brexit government is keen to downplay that the driver shortage is a result of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

However, when the country left the EU economic orbit earlier this year, one of the bloc’s main principles ceased to apply – the freedom for people to move within the EU to find work. With Brexit, thousands of truck drivers left the UK to go back to their homes in the EU, further straining an industry already facing prolonged staffing issues.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with thousands of EU drivers returning to their home countries. The UK’s strict lockdown has led to difficulties in training and testing new domestic drivers to replace those who leave.

In addition, the pandemic accelerated the number of British truck drivers retiring. Relatively low wages, changes in the way truck drivers’ income is taxed, and a lack of amenities – for example, toilets and showers – have also reduced the job’s appeal for younger workers.

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