UKRAINIANS made up two-thirds of the UK’s seasonal workforce last year – prompting questions over how the conflict might affect recruitment on British farms.

A total of 19,920 seasonal worker visas were issued to Ukrainian nationals in 2021, 67 per cent of the total, according to Home Office immigration figures.

The equivalent number for Russian nationals is 2,278, or eight per cent.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the figures raise “questions about the potential impact of conflict in Ukraine on recruitment to British farms, as the security situation in the nation deteriorates”.

Ukrainians were the second most common nationality among people granted UK work visas in 2021, almost exclusively as a result of the seasonal worker visa, according to the Observatory.

Director Madeleine Sumption said: “For most of the past 15 years, the majority of work migrants coming to the UK were from EU countries. Since the end of EU free movement, the large majority now come from non-EU countries.

“Today’s data show how heavily UK farms have relied on Ukrainian workers in particular, raising the question whether this source of workers will be disrupted by unpredictable events in that region.”

The latest figures also show that more than 100,000 applications have been made since a visa scheme to allow Hong Kongers to move to the UK was introduced.

British National (Overseas) (BNO) citizens and their relatives who live in Hong Kong were allowed to apply for visas to live and work in the UK from the end of January last year.

The decision came after the UK suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and slapped an arms embargo on the territory in response to China’s national security law.

There have been a total of 103,900 applications for the BN(O) route submitted in that time, with Home Office data suggesting 97,057 visas were granted.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “Our new points-based immigration system has taken back control of legal migration and we are now seeing the benefits our new high-skill, high-wage approach brings to communities across the UK.”

Meanwhile, the Government said it will monitor and offer support as required if the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia leads to a surge in global food prices.

Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat and corn, with economists warning the cost-of-living crisis in the UK could be exacerbated with inflation rising well beyond current predictions of around seven per cent later this year.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said if the jumps in oil, gas and electricity products on Thursday are sustained, it could push inflation to 8.2 per cent in April.

It would only fall back to 6.5 per cent by the end of the year, he added.

Thomas Pugh, an economist at RSM UK added: “Looking beyond the immediate humanitarian impact, the effect on the UK economy will depend on what happens next and how long commodity prices remain elevated for.

“But inflation in the UK will now probably rise beyond the 7.5 per cent peak we had expected in April and will remain higher for longer.”

“A good general guideline is that a 10 dollar increase in a barrel of oil increases inflation over the next year by about 0.15 percentage points.

“The direct effects on inflation will also likely extend to food prices.”

The price of a barrel of oil hit above 100 dollars a barrel on Thursday for the first time since 2014.

He added that Russia and Ukraine export a quarter of the world’s wheat, with Ukraine a major corn exporter.

Conservative former minister Robert Halfon urged the Government to make a statement on the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the cost of living.

Commons Leader Mark Spencer replied: “Clearly, the conflict in Ukraine between Russia and Ukraine is going to have an impact not only on global fuel prices, but also on global food prices as well.

“The Ukraine is an enormous supplier of food, of wheat and of bread.

“I think it’s something that the UK Government will monitor and, of course, will assist through its work to try and lessen the burden of the cost of living.”

Global wheat prices had already been rising prior to the invasion and are are up nearly 40 per cent this year, hitting levels not seen since 2013.

Futures contracts for the grain, along with corn, surging to maximum allowed levels on the Chicago exchange on Wednesday.

In Paris, milling wheat hit record highs, along with rising oilseed prices, Ukraine is a major producer of sunflowers.

Chris Rogers, a supply chain economist at Flexport, said: “The physical availability of the commodities that are produced and exported from Ukraine and Russia may be interrupted by conflict.”

He also warned that prices could rise as associated costs, such as shipping insurance, could rise.