Migration Clampdown Not the Answer


populationSpeaking at a packed Liberal Democrat Conference Centre Forum lunchtime meeting in Dorchester 1, Marriot Highcliff Hotel, Bournemouth with Chris Huhne MP on ‘British jobs for foreign workers? Migration in a recession’ Keith Best, Chief Executive of IAS, warned of the dangers of too many restrictions on migrant workers in time of a recession.
“We now see a further clampdown on those coming to work in the UK. Only recently, in September, the Government decided to accept all the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee so that from next year the minimum salary to be paid to a worker will increase to £20,000 and the threshold for earning 20 points under the Points Based System will rise from £24,000 to £32,000,” he said. “The Home Secretary had proposed that entry under Tier 2 of the Points Based System (the skilled worker route) should be restricted only to skills shortage occupations but this was rejected as being too inhibiting for employers.
“The one concession is that an extra 5 points will be awarded for occupations delivering key public services. Nevertheless, these measures will price overseas (non-European Economic Area) workers out of the market for many UK employers. Despite the exodus of eastern European workers there will be no scheme (under Tier 3) to allow lower skilled workers to come in from non-European Economic Area countries with the potential of creating a crisis in low skilled labour and wage prices being forced up in a time of recession.
“Worse, against the background of current migration, these measures are unnecessary. In the second quarter of this year there were 26,150 applications from workers in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and the Czech Republic – down from 46,070 in the same period in 2008. The number of Bulgarian and Romanians applying for accession worker cards also continues to fall. There were 580 applications in the second quarter of 2009, a fall of 43 per cent, compared to the same quarter in 2008. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) published figures on 27 August that show net-migration fell to 118,000 in 2008, from 209,000 in 2007, the lowest since the eight accession countries joined the EU in 2004.
“Recent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that probably half of all the eastern European workers who came here have now gone home. They have also pointed out the increasing nature of short term migration: the number of immigrants spending less than four years in the United Kingdom doubled between 1996 and 2007 and 85% of migrants currently in the United Kingdom who took part in an online survey said they were only planning to stay for a short time.
“More than three million immigrants to the United Kingdom in the last 30 years – around half the total – have subsequently left and the rate is increasing: 190,000 left in 2007 alone. Sadly for the UK, they tend to be those with high skills, and good education who, therefore, are more portable. This prompted the Immigration Minister Phil Woolas MP to comment: ‘This report further demonstrates that migrants come to the UK for a short period of time, work, contribute to the economy and then return home.” There are now fewer people applying under Tier 2 than under the old work permits scheme and they are bringing fewer dependants.
“Against this background the Minister, nevertheless, is now proposing to break the link between coming to work in the UK and earning a right of residence: the new probationary citizenship proposals will make it more difficult for those who have worked here to become British citizens. It remains to be seen if this will deter key workers from coming to the UK if they feel that after five or more years with their children in British schools they would have to disrupt their lives yet again by having to leave the UK.
“Yet there are still desperate shortages in care homes and other places which are not being filled from the indigenous labour pool. Forcing care homes to put up the wages of carers will further jeopardise looking after the elderly in the years to come.
“Although no-one condones illegal working, Government measures have locked in large numbers of people as illegal migrants (probably as many as 1 million of whom about half are likely to be working illegally – as the high profile case involving the Attorney-General has illustrated). The Government’s response has been to try to locate and remove such people but often in circumstances of great inhumanity and public expense. The only sustainable answer to this problem is to allow an earned regularisation process whereby workers can be taken out of the shadows of exploitation by unscrupulous employers and made to pay taxes legitimately (of which an opinion poll in 2007 showed that 66% of the population was in favour). In stead, the Government has created a climate of fear among employers who may not have read the 80 page booklet Prevention of Illegal Working and who, as a result, can face a civil penalty of £10,000 per worker simply for checking the wrong documents.
“The greatest problem with this approach, rather than one of being seen to assist employers get the workers they need, is that, inevitably, it will lead to discrimination by employers against those who “look” like migrants ie the ethnic communities who already suffer disadvantages in accessing the labour market. The Government is in danger, no doubt unwittingly, of creating further divisions in society which is contrary to all its protestations of seeking greater community cohesion and will give succour to the political extremists. We must resist this.”
From IAS

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