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Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Calls for common asylum policy
French police with alleged illegal immigrant in Calais
Attitudes to immigrants vary across Europe
Migration should be encouraged into the European Union with a common policy agreed across all member states, a House of Lords committee has said.

The move would help boost prosperity by tackling looming problems with skill shortages and an ageing population, the peers argue.

Immigration policy should be framed so as to allow businesses to meet their legitimate recruitment needs quickly and efficiently

Committee members
But they warn that one probable side effect of a common EU immigration policy would be the end of the UK's separate border controls.

At the same time the committee chairman called for an end to the "demonising" of migrants.

Liberal Democrat Lady Harris of Richmond, said: "It is time for politicians and the media to stop demonising economic migrants and to think about how immigration can help us."

In a report published on Wednesday the Lords select committee on the European Union (Home Affairs) said rather than trying to keep migrants out of Europe, it should be made easier for businesses to recruit the workers they need from outside the EU.

In the UK alone the increasingly elderly population could reduce annual economic growth rates by about 0.5% without an influx of foreign labour.

A common immigration policy would not necessarily lead to a massive influx of migrants from the developing world, said the committee.

Report main points
Introduce single EU migrant policy
Would offset skills shortage and ageing population
Would reduce 'black economy' jobs and people smuggling
Give work and travel rights to legal migrants
Give residence rights after 5 years in EU
It pointed out that EU citizens from poorer member states have so far not taken advantage of their right to free movement to "shop around" for better social conditions.

But it would mean the end of Britain's own border controls, agreed in an opt-out to the Amsterdam Treaty, because they would probably be unfeasible in the long term as pressure for free movement within the EU increased.

However, support for the common immigration policy was not unanimous among committee members.

Tory peer Lady Young warned it would be neither "practicable or useful" and might fuel extremism.

She called for the UK's Amsterdam Treaty opt-out to be retained.

Other committee members agreed that "immigration policy should be framed so as to allow businesses to meet their legitimate recruitment needs quickly and efficiently".

Global market

Europe is increasingly competing in a global market both for high-skilled professionals such as computer programmers and doctors, and for labourers in the agricultural, construction and catering sectors, the committee found.

Its report, A Community Immigration Policy, stated: "It is clear that there are labour shortages in Europe.

"Media attention has tended to focus on shortages in information technology and other high-skill sectors.

"Immigrant labour can play an important part in overcoming these shortages."

But EU employers were also dependent on thousands of illegal immigrants to fill low-skill labouring posts, many in the so-called "black economy".

People smuggling

They suffered from low wages, an absence of benefits and dangerous working conditions.

The committee said: "Any immigration policy, whether organised at community or national level, must address this problem."

It could also reduce demand for the people-smuggling rackets that bring thousands of people into the EU in dangerous conditions each year.

The peers argued for legal migrants to be given rights to travel and work within the EU.

A right to settle permanently after no more than five years' residence should also be granted, they added.

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