Shearing is a specialist skill, and one that takes many years and thousands, if not millions, of sheep to master.
For Oxfordshire shearer Stuart Connor, being able to hire a New Zealand shearer to help him during shearing time has been invaluable to his business, which now shears in the region of 20,000 sheep a year.
See also: Top shearers share their secrets
This will be the tenth season that Stuart has run his own gang, having taken over an existing run from a fellow shearer who wanted to pass the business on, like many who enter the shearing business.
Mr Connor, who spent a couple of years in New Zealand previously, had built up many contacts keen to travel overseas for shearing seasons in the northern hemisphere.
“I hired from New Zealand for the first time eight seasons ago – and I wasn’t a member of the NAAC at the time, so both my Kiwi friend Leon and I had to jump through hoops to get the appropriate paperwork.”
It also cost a small fortune, he adds. “Leon had to pay about NZ $500 [£250] and I had to pay in the region of £400 – which made it hardly worthwhile for either of us.”
Since joining the NAAC, the process has got a lot simpler and cheaper, he explains. “All I need to do now is make sure Leon has a written contract of employment with him on entry into the UK, call the NAAC with name, flight details and times, and that’s it. They get in touch with the Home Office and Leon’s name gets put on a list.”
In 2011 the immigration system changed for overseas shearers coming into the UK, making it even more difficult.
The NAAC played an active role in lobbying for positive changes. As a result a concession has been secured each year since, including for the coming shearing season.
This concession will be effective for those seeking entry from 1 April 2015 and the end of June 2015.
“There’s no cost for this service from the NAAC, merely my sub – about £120/year – which is well worth it.
“Shearing is such a specialist niche that without the help of New Zealand and Australian shearers it would be difficult to get through the national flock. We have our own shearers in this country, but there are simply not enough to get through the numbers we need to.”