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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 13:08 GMT
East European workers top 130,000
Many eastern European workers are employed in the agricultural sector
More than 130,000 people from eastern Europe have registered to work in the UK since their countries joined the EU last May, Home Office figures show.

The numbers registering fell away towards the end of last year, with 40,000 new workers in October-December compared to 59,000 during May-July.

More than half of all workers were from Poland with Lithuanians and Latvians being the next biggest groups.

Most worked in hospitality, catering, agriculture or other service sectors.

Around four in 10 workers from the accession countries - Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland - were in the UK before last May, the report said.

Home Office minister Des Browne said workers from the so-called "A8 states" had contributed 240m to the UK economy up to the end of December 2004.

"People from the accession states already here have legitimised their position by registering with the scheme and are now contributing to our economy, paying tax and National Insurance," Mr Browne said.

"Workers now available from the new EU countries mean that we can phase out over time our current quota-based schemes in the agriculture, food processing and hospitality sectors," he added.

Returning home

Restrictions on A8 workers who make up just under 0.4% of all workers in the UK, mean they can only claim unemployment benefit after a year's continuous employment.

Fewer than 800 were receiving benefits with 97% having claims refused immediately, the report said.

Many workers were taking temporary work and reports from embassies in the UK and abroad showed many were returning home after brief periods of work or unsuccessful attempts to find work, the report added.

Most of the arrivals were young, single people without dependants who were mainly self-sufficient with only 178 being given accommodation because they were homeless.

The Home Office report confirmed findings from a TUC study last year which found eastern European workers had settled mainly in rural areas of the UK in response to labour shortages in the agricultural sector.

Between October and December just 20% of A8 workers found work in London, down from 28% in May.

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