Page last updated at 07:17 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 08:17 UK

Fear over skilled foreign workers

UK immigration officer
The report said the number of skilled immigrants was relatively low

Hostility towards immigrants could stop companies attracting highly-skilled workers from abroad, a report has said.

The Work Foundation said skilled migrants were needed in areas such as science, healthcare and technology.

Report author Katerina Rudiger said the UK needed to be seen as an open and attractive place for skilled employees.

Meanwhile, campaigners Migrationwatch say government figures show just 8% of 2.3 million immigrants in the past 16 years came from Eastern Europe.

'Limit work permits'

The Work Foundation said despite the high-profile immigration debate, the number of skilled workers moving to the UK was "relatively low".

It said official figures showed 167,000 highly-skilled workers came to the UK in 2005, but more were needed if Britain was to prosper in a global market.

But Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme a cap should be introduced to limit the length of work permits to four years.

If we are going to say, 'You can come for four years, then you're out' why would anyone try to make a long-term future in UK industry?
Ian Brinkley
The Work Foundation

This, he said, would provide a "proper incentive" to British employers to train British workers.

"At the moment, if you can take a skilled worker off the shelf, you are going to do so, obviously, especially if your competitors are going to do so," Sir Andrew said.

"People come to this country because the pay is good, because the prospects are good, because it's a good place to work. It's perfectly reasonable that people should then move on."

But Ian Brinkley, from the Work Foundation, told Today the UK was competing against countries like the US, Canada and Australia, which have a reputation for being more welcoming to migrant workers.

"If we are going to say, 'You can come for four years, then you're out', why would anyone try to make a long-term future in the UK and in UK industry?" he said.

"If we ever give the impression that the UK is unwelcoming or xenophobic when it comes to these highly-skilled migrants, they will go elsewhere because they do have a choice.

"We need high-skill migrants to complement investment in our own workforce in order to keep these very dynamic, very important fast-growing industries going, to create jobs for everyone and keep the UK in its pole position in the service industries."

'Sweeping changes'

On the government immigration figures, Sir Andrew said supporters of immigration had tried to give the impression most immigrants came from the new EU member states.

"The government's own figures show that this is far from the case," he said.

The Australian style points-based system will cover six out of every 10 migrants wanting to come to the UK
UK Border Agency spokesman

Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said the figures "blow a hole in the government's argument that the Conservative policy of an annual limit would not be effective".

Net immigration during the past 16 years was less than two million because 422,000 people emigrated from the UK.

The UK Border Agency said "sweeping changes" were being introduced to the immigration system.

"The Australian style points-based system will cover six out of every 10 migrants wanting to come to the UK," said a spokesman.

"Other measures include a single border force to guard our ports and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals."


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