17 August 2001

UK FARMERS HEADING

FOR FOREIGN PARTS

Considering selling up and

starting a new farming life

abroad? Dont forget about

the visa, as Phil Bennion

from Four Corners

Emigration explained to

David Cousins

REMEMBER that phrase which summed up how to survive in farming – get together, get bigger or get out? While it may have a chilly truth to it, there is a fourth option of interest to increasing numbers of UK farmers – go abroad.

But while selling a farm in Britain and buying one in Canada, Australia, South Africa or wherever is relatively straightforward, getting the visa that allows you to live in that country may be slightly trickier.

One firm that has seen a sharp rise in enquiries and applications from farmers since the foot-and-mouth crisis began is Four Corners Emigration. It reports that in the last four months serious enquiries from the farming community have risen tenfold to two or three a week. These arent vague phone calls to find out whats involved, theyre serious applicants who are dead set on farming abroad and want to get there as quickly as possible.

&#42 Specialist emigration

Four Corners, which has 27 staff and a £2.2m/yr turnover, reckons its now one of the biggest specialist emigration consultants firms in the UK and one of only very few that has wide experience of dealing with the particular requirements of farmers. Several dozen farmers have already been helped to move to farms abroad and that number is bound to rise over the next few months.

So, what sort of people are making this drastic move? "Surprisingly, its not immediate financial factors that people cite," says managing director Phil Bennion. "What many people tell us is that the farm has been in the family for generations but they are no longer confident that there is a viable business to hand over to the children."

"The problem is they just dont know whats round the corner," adds commonwealth director Dennis Brazolot. "After BSE, the weather, dreadful commodity prices and foot-and-mouth they wonder whats next."

Owner-occupiers selling up to go abroad tend to be in their early to mid-forties, while tenant farmers and farm workers taking the same path are somewhat younger. "We did have one couple in their late sixties/early seventies who emigrated successfully," adds Mr Brazolot. "They wanted a hobby farm in Canada where they could spend their twilight years." In all but one case, the emigrants had children.

How much funding you can bring to the move depends on whether youre an owner-occupier, tenant, contractor or worker. Owner-occupiers with a farm to sell usually have around £500,000 to spend, while tenants usually have £100,000-£200,000. However, tenants may be able to raise more cash from quitting a three-generation tenancy than they realise (see FW, May 25, p28).

&#42 Not a quick process

Emigrating is not a quick process, says Mr Bennion. The UK farm has to be sold, the money invested securely, a visa gained, a new farm found and family and belongings have to be transported long distances. Typically, the whole business takes 18 months to two years.

Four Corners deals with emigration to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the US, however the entry requirements for each country vary sharply (see box). Moreover, emigration rules can be changed without passing a law or statute. So governments tend to alter them at short notice according to how many immigrants they want, what qualifications theyll accept, how much capital is required, what skills are needed and so on.

One thing that farmers wanting to emigrate increasingly have to produce to gain a visa is a business plan. So much so that Four Corners Emigration now has a department purely involved with helping small operators produce the sort of business plan that will satisfy increasingly tough immigration departments.

"They may not say you need a business plan," says head of department Peter Newton, "but you do need one. It will be similar to the sort you might have to produce for a UK bank to get a loan. Although the average visa officers knowledge of agriculture may be limited, they will be looking closely for flaws and wrong assumptions in the plan."

Increasingly, too, countries will let you in on a temporary visa but then check that the business is going OK after a couple of years before granting you permanent resident status.

This shouldnt be something to panic about, stresses Mr Bennion, since the officers concerned are inclined to be sympathetic if they can see that your business isnt doing as well as you hoped. But they will want to see evidence that you are likely to make a proper go of it.

NZ favourite destination?

Four Corners also took its message on the road in July, with a series of four farming emigration seminars at Penrith, Glasgow, Peterborough and Bristol. They were designed to explain about emigration, visas and whats involved in buying a farm abroad.

About 35 farmers attended each seminar, said the company, and almost all were determined to get out of UK agriculture and farm elsewhere. More than 50% were keen to go to New Zealand, with the rest split between Canada and Australia.

The main factors cited for wanting to leave were the bleak future for farming in the UK, low prices, excessive read-tape and disillusionment over the governments handling of thefoot-and-mouth crisis.

GETTING GOING

SO WHAT can firms like Four Corners offer that you couldnt achieve yourself with hard work and perseverance? Basically, knowledge gained from hundreds of applications of what individual visa departments want to see (and dont want to see) when applicants visa forms land on their desks.

It also provides an initial assessment service that gives you a good idea of whether youre likely to make the grade or not. First off is a written form and one-hour consultation (costing £29-£39) which will take you some way along that road. Since they use the same scoring systems employed by the immigration departments themselves, at the end of this process Four Corners Emigration reckons to have a very good idea of whether you will get a visa or not.

"We estimate our success rate at this stage is 98%," says Mr Bennion. "The 2% who do fail to get a visa have usually withheld medical or criminal information that has been picked up by immigration department checks.

"However, we dont only take on clients who have an almost certain chance of success. If someone has only a 50% chance of gaining a visa but is keen to try, were happy to try our best on their behalf."

And costs? Mr Bennion says that getting a visa and providing relocation assistance for an individual under the skilled worker category would cost about £2000. Achieving the same thing for a reasonably complex farm business would cost about £5000.

Individual countries requirements

CANADA Skilled worker or independent category: assessed under a points system that takes into account age, qualifications and work experience. Farmers often fail to achieve the required 70 points under this category because farming is not an occupation listed on the General Occupations List. So they are probably better to apply under the Self-employed category.

Self-employed category: suitable for farmers. Applicants must prove they have the skills and business acumen to be successfully self-employed in Canada.

Entrepreneur category: Similar to above, but applicants also have to commit to employing at least one Canadian. A business plan may be required and applicants have to have at least Ca$20,000 (£95,000) of funds available.

USA "Its not easy for a farmer to get into the US," says Mr Brazolot. "You would need to have US$1m (£725,000) to invest and be able to employ 10 or more US citizens.

NEW General skills category: assessed under a points system

ZEALAND that takes into account age, qualifications and work experience. There is no list of preferred occupations, but applicants must have qualifications equivalent to an NZ diploma.

Entrepreneur category: Applicants have to present a fully-researched business proposal to gain a three year temporary visa. At the end of that period they must demonstrate that they have an established business with a degree of success to be allowed to stay on permanently. No minimum investment figure.

AUSTRALIA General skilled migration category: assessed under a points system, with a list of preferred occupations (of which farming isnt one). Age limit 45. Difficult for farmers to gain entry under this category.

Business skills migration category: there are several sub-categories here, but the one likely to be most suitable to farmers is the owner-manager one. For this, applicants are required to have had a successful business background and to have recently-held assets of at least Au$200,000 (£76,000). They also have to make a commitment to establish a business in Australia.

Independent executive category: a popular mechanism for farmers with lower levels of capital and backgrounds in small business to set up a business in Australia and then apply for permanent residence when the business is established.

SOUTH AFRICA Own business category: applicants have to make a commitment to invest in a business that will employ South Africans and provide benefits to the country. A business plan is required to support the application and assets of more than £100,000 are needed.