Thousands more migrant workers allowed
Thousands more migrants workers can head for the UK after the Government relaxed quotas despite soaring unemployment levels.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 5:01PM GMT 18 Dec 2008
Tight restrictions on low skilled workers from Romania and Bulgaria will remain in place for at least another year, the Home Office announced, but the limit on those allowed to come was raised by another 5,000.
And the Home Office's chief advisors on migration said other rules that restrict the number of migrant workers from the two nations should be re-examined, possibly as early as next year.
It made the recommendations despite accepting the recession is starting to hit the labour market and job vacancies.
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas confirmed the restrictions on immigration from the EU's two newest member states, limiting them mainly to fruit picking and food processing jobs, would not be lifted.
It followed a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to keep them in place given the current economic downturn and rising unemployment.
But MAC also said the numbers allowed in to do agricultural work should be raised from from 16,250 places to 21,250, which ministers accepted.
Migrant workers from the eight Eastern European countries, including Poland, which joined the EU in 2004 have full working rights in Britain.
Last year ministers cited pressures on public services as part of the reason why restrictions on the two new countries joining in January 2007 were put in place.
Rising unemployment, which has already hit 1.86 million, is likely to have been a key factor influencing the decision.
It also emerged this week that net migration would have to drop by 80 per cent to 50,000 a year if the Government wants to keep the population below 70 million.
The MAC said the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), which requires jobs to be advertised to British workers before they can be offered to workers from the two countries, need to be reconsidered.
In its report, the committee recommended keeping the test for Romania and Bulgaria, which joined in 2007 in the “A2” wave, but said it was a “finely balanced judgment”.
National Farmers' Union horticulture board chairman Richard Hirst said: “The decision reflects the compelling evidence put by the industry that there is insufficient seasonal labour to pick and harvest crops.”
All workers Romania and Bulgaria will be given full working rights in the EU by 2014.
The report reveals official estimates put the number of people born in either Bulgaria or Romania living in Britain at around 67,000.
But this is likely to be an “underestimate” the report says.
Mr Woolas said: “It is essential that only those we need can come here to work and that is why we have decided to continue restricting the work that Bulgarian and Romanians can do here. “This is a prudent decision that will ensure the UK continues to benefit from the positive economic contribution Bulgarian and Romanian workers make, while protecting British workers and making sure the numbers coming here are managed in the national interest.