Improve is claiming victory after the government agreed to include two butchery roles on its priority list for skilled migrant workers.
The Food and Drink sector skills council recently led a delegation to meet with the Migration and Advisory Committee (MAC).
It gave evidence to show that UK meat and poultry companies were facing a serious shortage of people with butchery skills, which would be exacerbated if meat boners and trimmers were included under new rules introduced to reduce the flow of migrant workers into the country.
The government has subsequently agreed that the two roles be included on the shortage occupation list, with this allowing employers to recruit migrants to these jobs as long as they are a registered sponsor under the Points Based System for immigration.
Improve chief executive Jack Matthews said: “We knew from what employers have told us that there is a real shortage of skilled meat boners and trimmers.
“It can take two years to train someone from scratch to fill these positions which leaves companies relying on migrant labour in the short term. In addition, many of the people who have performed these jobs have been drawn into other industries or returned home as economic prospects have improved in their own countries over recent years.”
According to research undertaken by Improve last year there are an estimated 24,000 foreign nationals employed in the UK meat and poultry sector, with half of all companies in the sector employing migrant labour.
Mr Matthews added: “Imbalances in the labour market are one of the unseen side effects of the recession. If we are to build a successful foundation for the food and drink industry as the economy begins to recover it is vital that urgent skills shortages are addressed.”
Overall, the meat sector has seen a 22% decline in migrant worker numbers between 2007 and 2008.