A Million Foreign Workers Come To UK
More than a million foreigners have been allowed to come to work in Britain in just three years – and given the right to remain indefinitely. The numbers of migrants, who are also entitled to bring their families and settle, have been revealed in new figures released to MPs by the Home Office.
They reveal for the first time the full impact that officially sanctioned immigration is having on the UK work force. They show that the issuing of work permits to people from non-European Union countries continued to accelerate even after the expansion of the EU in 2004, which has already brought an unprecedented number of eastern European workers to Britain.
Between 2004 and last year, a record 309,000 non-EU citizens were granted long-term work permits carrying potential entitlement to settle. In the same period, 555,000 eastern Europeans have also joined the UK’s Worker Registration Scheme, while the Home Office estimates that a further 150,000 eastern Europeans have come to Britain as self-employed.
The figures total slightly more than a million – but they do not even include the workers’ dependants, migrants on short-term work permits, workers from “old EU” countries such as Italy and Portugal, asylum-seekers or illegal immigrants.
It is not known how many of the million migrants have exercised their right to stay in Britain, or how many have returned to their home countries. Overall, according to the Home Office, one-tenth of Britain’s adult population -about five million people – is now foreign-born.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, claimed last year that the arrival of eastern European workers has brought “undoubted economic benefits”. Critics claim it has led to pay cuts and job losses for British workers.
Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, said the figures reinforced his party’s calls for an annual cap on the number of work permits issued. He said: “These very large numbers show how important it is to control immigration if we are to gain the full benefit from it.”
The biggest private-sector trade union, Amicus, accused employers of cutting British professionals’ jobs and replacing them with lower-paid foreigners on work permits.
Work permits are intended to allow skilled foreign workers into Britain when companies cannot recruit suitable staff in the UK. Last year, 32,000 permits, one in four of the total, were issued to information technology professionals, the majority to Indian nationals being transferred to Britain by their employers.
Peter Skyte, Amicus’s national officer, claimed that some companies were hiring foreigners “to the detriment of the resident UK work force”, using the recruits to force down wage levels or to avoid training existing staff. In some cases, Amicus has claimed, local staff have been made redundant to make way for foreign recruits. In other cases, Indian staff who learn on the job in Britain are later sent home in “offshoring” moves which result in the closure of UK operations.
Mr Skyte, who voiced his concerns to the Home Office minister Joan Ryan at a meeting in November last year, said: “Companies should not be allowed to abuse the work-permit scheme as an opportunity to put short-term profits before long-term investment in the UK.”
Under the rules, foreign staff with work permits should be paid the same as their British counterparts. However, Home Office research has found that in one-in-six cases, they were paid below the going rate.
A report last year by the respected research institute the National Institute for Social and Economic Research found that immigration has expanded the UK economy by 3 per cent, or £30 billion, in a decade. It concluded that immigrants are net contributors to the economy, but their presence has added to unemployment and forced down wages for the low paid.
A poll last month showed that only 19 per cent of the public believes that the arrival of EU migrant workers has benefited the economy, while 47 per cent believe it has made things worse.
A spokesman for the Home Office said yesterday: “Migration to the UK makes a substantial contribution to economic growth, helping to ease labour shortages, support public services, such as health care, and increase investment, innovation and entrepreneurship. Migrants contribute disproportionately to GDP owing to their higher-than-average productivity.”
But official figures for immigration, and the size of the UK population, are in disarray.
Karen Dunnell, the national statistician at the Office for National Statistics, admitted in December that “available estimates of migrant numbers are inadequate to meet all the purposes for which they are now required”. She spoke out after Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, complained that a lack of information about migrants was hindering his efforts to steer the economy.