Some 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers are to receive temporary UK visas as the government seeks to limit disruption in the run-up to Christmas.
The government confirmed that 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be eligible to work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve.
The scheme is also being extended to 5,500 poultry workers.
Lengthy queues of vehicles snaked their way to gas stations in Britain on Saturday where an acute shortage of truck drivers has led to fuel rationing and some pumps running dry and prompted the government to issue temporary work visas.
Across the country, motorists waited in long lines to fill up their vehicles. One big distributor said it was rationing sales and a number of operators said they were having to close some forecourts, provoking panic-buying.
Government ministers and oil companies say there are ample stocks of petrol or diesel and there is no cause for alarm, but the lack of truck drivers is hampering transport of fuel from refineries to gas stations.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it would “ensure preparations remain on track” for the festive season.
The intervention from the government comes after a shortage of lorry drivers led to disrupted fuel deliveries and lengthy queues at petrol stations – despite ministers insisting the UK has plenty of fuel.
Other measures being brought forward include using Ministry of Defence examiners to increase HGV (heavy goods vehicle) testing capacity, and sending nearly one million letters to drivers who hold an HGV licence, encouraging them back into the industry.
Officials said the loan of MoD examiners would help put on “thousands of extra tests” over the next 12 weeks.
The letter will set out the steps the haulage sector is taking to improve industry conditions, including increased wages, flexible working and fixed hours, according to the Department for Transport.
Recruitment for additional short-term HGV drivers and poultry workers will begin in October.
Mr Shapps said: “We are acting now, but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.
“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations remain on track.”
Trade association Logistics UK estimates that the UK is in need of about 90,000 HGV drivers – with existing shortages made worse by a number of factors, including the pandemic, Brexit, an ageing workforce, and low wages and poor working conditions.
The Department for Transport said it recognised that importing foreign labour “will not be the long-term solution” to the problem and that it wanted to see employers invest to build a “high-wage, high-skill economy”.
It said up to 4,000 people would soon be able to take advantage of training courses to become HGV drivers.
This includes free, short, intensive courses, funded by the Department for Education, to train up to 3,000 new HGV drivers.
These new “skills bootcamps” will train drivers to be road ready and gain a Cat C or Cat C&E license, helping to tackle the current HGV driver shortage.
The remaining 1,000 drivers will be trained through courses accessed locally and funded by the government’s adult education budget, the DfT said.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people to launch new well-paid careers in the industry, supporting thousands to get the training they need to be road ready.”