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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Migrants may get seasonal contracts
Polish cucumber pickers
About 20,000 vegetable pickers enter the UK each year
The government is to look at ways of allowing more foreign workers into the UK on short-term contracts.

Ministers say they want to stop illegal immigrants being exploited by making it easier for people to work legally in parts of the economy where there are seasonal labour shortages.

The government is also considering dispersing thousands of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children throughout the country as part of a plan to relieve pressure on London and the south-east.

Foreign labourers - mainly eastern European - have been legally able to get seasonal agricultural work in the UK for many years.

Picking fruit, vegetable and flowers, about 20,000 people a year are allowed to come for a few months under strict rules about how and where they can work.

Labour shortages

Now the government is going to consider whether the system can be made more flexible and perhaps extended to other sectors of the economy where there are seasonal shortages of labour, such as construction and hospitality.

Bob Siddiman from the National Farmers' Union said farmers would welcome any scheme to help fill unwanted jobs picking fruit and vegetables.

"We can't even fill the periods at the beginning and at the end of the year at the moment," he said.

"And the time of peak demand for pickers - in the middle of the year - is getting increasingly difficult because there are fewer UK nationals willing to take part."

The government is also looking at the working holidaymakers scheme which allows up to 40,000 people a year from the Commonwealth to stay and work in the UK for two years.

Illegal migrants trying to enter the tunnel
The plan would allow migrants to enter the country legally
It is mainly used by young people from countries like Australia and South Africa; the government will consider if it can be made more effective by attracting more people from other Commonwealth countries and relaxing the limitations on length of stay or the type of work that visitors can do.

The review is part of the government's plans to crack down on illegal immigration and bogus asylum-seekers while exploring ways of allowing workers with useful skills that are in demand to enter the country legally.

Refugee children

Another government proposal would see asylum seekers under the age of 18 transferred to different parts of the country.


Policy should be driven by what is in the best interests of the child

Terry Smith, Refugee Council
"We are actively considering measures to relieve the pressure on Kent and the South East of unaccompanied minors," a Home Office spokesman said.

Asylum-seeking children are treated differently to adults and are placed in the care of social services when they arrive in Britain.

But the Refugee Council expressed concern about children being scattered around Britain.

Terry Smith, head of the organisation's children's section, told the Guardian newspaper: "Policy should be driven by what is in the best interests of the child."


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24 May 02 | Europe
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