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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 17:39 GMT
Mixed reaction to EU migrant plan
Home Secretary David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett delivered a statement in the House of Commons
David Blunkett has been accused of over-reacting to headlines which warned of floods of benefit tourists.

The home secretary told MPs that people from new EU countries faced benefit restrictions for two years and would have to register to work in the UK.

The Immigration Advisory Service's Keith Best said existing laws were enough to prevent benefits abuse.

"You already have to prove that you are habitually resident in the UK - a perfectly adequate safeguard," he said.

The decision to allow new EU citizens access to the UK labour market if they register to work was welcomed by the IPPR think tank director Nick Pearce.

He said: "It's far better for people to work legally and paying taxes."

The UK economy would benefit from the "brightest and best" arriving from Eastern Europe in the first wave, said Mr Pearce, a former special adviser to Mr Blunkett.


The head of pressure group Migration Watch UK, Sir Andrew Green, said the tightening of benefit rules was "welcome and long overdue".

But he branded the registration scheme announced by the home secretary for citizens of accession states wanting to work in the UK as "unenforceable".

He said: "It is unwise that we should have both large scale immigration from the rest of the world and effectively an open door to eastern Europe because of the total numbers involved and the impact on our population."

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, argued that foreign-born workers created 10% of the UK's wealth.

"If there is a gap in the job market and the workers come in, what is wrong with that? They create wealth and that is good for everyone."


Mr Blunkett earlier told MPs that it was in the UK's "best interest" to help fill 550,000 vacancies in the labour market.

People from the new member states would not need work permits but would need to be on a worker registration scheme, Mr Blunkett said in a Commons statement.

Migrants were welcome to work legally and openly but not access benefits for two years or longer, said Mr Blunkett.

If they could not support themselves, they would have to return home, he said.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Ministers know that they need migrant workers"

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