Tough restrictions will be kept for low-skilled workers from Europe
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From The Times
October 27, 2007
The Government is to keep the tight restrictions on the number of low-skilled workers from Romania and Bulgaria that it will allow into Britain, despite pressure from employers.
Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, is about to dash the hopes of the Bulgarian and Romanian governments that Britains labour market will be opened fully to their citizens.
The Home Office has conducted a review of the policy imposed when the two states joined the EU in January and has come down firmly in favour of maintaining restrictions.
An announcement of the continued ban is imminent and could be made within the next few days.
The decision comes only days after the Office for National Statistics published revised figures for migration and continuing public concern at the scale of immigration.
The latest figures show that immigration is estimated to add one million to the population of Britain over the next five years, with net migration running up to record levels of 240,000 over that period. The annual figure is greater than all but one of the years since Labour came to power.
Under the restrictions, low-skilled workers from both states are allowed to work in Britain in special schemes for the seasonal agricultural and the food-processing industries.
Other workers allowed to enter are those who come under a migrant programme for the highly skilled, those whose skills cannot be found in the existing labour market and are given a work permit, and the self-employed.
In the six months since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, 75 have entered under the high-skill programme, 1,095 with work permits and 7,775 self-employed. In the same period 6,405 applied under the scheme for seasonal agricultural workers.
The decision to limit the numbers of Bulgarian and Romanian workers comes despite warnings from some employers that the number of migrant workers heading from the rest of Eastern Europe is slowing.
FirstGroup, a nationwide bus company, says that restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians could prevent the expansion of bus services in cities such as Glasgow.
We are currently filling the majority of vacancies with local and EU recruits. However, within the next 12 months we are predicting that we will need to have alternative resources of labour opened up to us.
The restriction on employing Bulgarian and Romanian nationals as bus drivers will have an impact on our ability to fulfil our vacancies in the future, the company said, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry assessing the economic impact of immigration.
The paper said: It is vital to maintain the supply of labour for the sustainability of a cost-effective public transport system.
Stuart Begg, a spokesman for FirstGroup, said that the company had a shortage of about 200 out of 20,000 drivers. Drivers would earn a basic 7.30 an hour for a 38-hour week in Bath, compared with 9 an hour for a driver in Glasgow city centre.
Asked why it was difficult to recruit Britons to be bus drivers, Mr Begg said: It is not a badly paid job. It is a job where there is shift work. It requires early starts you have to get up in the morning or work late at night or work weekends.
There is congestion in some towns and cities. Driving is not to everyones cup of tea.
The National Farmers Union told the parliamentary committee that indications suggested that the number of Eastern European immigrants seeking to work in agriculture and horticulture would decline throughout next year.
The union estimates that there will be a shortfall of 5,000 workers and has urged a relaxation of the quotas on Romanians and Bulgarians seeking work in the agriculture sector.
The Commission for Rural Economies said that any sudden reversal in the number of migrant workers coming from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia would mean some rural economies being vulnerable to a big hit, which would include labour shortages.
Some employers believe that UK businesses would suffer or could not survive without migrant labour, the commissions paper to the parliamentary committee said.
Migrants from Eastern Europe are noted for their willingness to work hard for relatively little reward.
Many employers also consider that young people from the UK are often not adequately equipped or experienced to do even relatively low skill level work and may have an attitude problem.
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