Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Bulgaria and Romania curbs stay

The government is concerned about the impact on the jobs market

Migrants from Bulgaria and Romania will continue to be barred from taking most unskilled jobs in the UK.

But 5,000 more workers from those countries will be admitted to carry out seasonal agricultural work.

Ministers have accepted in full the recommendation of the Migration Advisory Committee which said curbs introduced in 2007 should remain.

Committee chairman Professor David Metcalf said the aim was to protect British jobs in the downturn.

Migrants from Poland and the seven other Eastern European nations which joined the EU in 2004 will continue to be free to work in the UK.

Bulgarian and Romanians are free to enter the UK, as citizens of EU countries, and there are at least 67,000 people from the two countries living in Britain, according to the Labour Force Survey.

And skilled workers from the two countries are entitled to seek work permits but firms who employ unskilled workers face prosecution.

The restrictions will be reviewed again in 2009.

Rising unemployment

Professor Metcalf said: "In this time of economic downturn it was sensible to make recommendations which would avoid any negative impacts on the current UK workforce.

"That is why we chose to advise that the current restrictions should stay in place, with only a modest increase in the number of temporary workers in agriculture."

It is essential that only those we need can come here to work and that is why we have decided to continue restricting the work that Bulgarian and Romanians can do here
Phil Woolas
Immigration minister

There will be a limited expansion of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) from 16,500 to 21,250 in 2009.

This allows Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to come to the UK to work in agriculture for up to six months to fill the gap in the labour market.

The quota for the Sector Based Scheme for food processing - which is restricted to Romanian and Bulgarian workers - will remain at 3,500.

'Prudent decision'

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: "It is essential that only those we need can come here to work and that is why we have decided to continue restricting the work that Bulgarian and Romanians can do here.

"This is a prudent decision that will ensure the UK continues to benefit from the positive economic contribution Bulgarian and Romanian workers make, while protecting British workers and making sure the numbers coming here are managed in the national interest.

"We have already suspended tier three of the points based system to stop low skilled migrants from outside the European Economic Area entering the UK."

Last year ministers cited pressures on public services as part of the reason why restrictions on the two new countries joining the EU in January 2007 were put in place.

But rising unemployment, which on Wednesday hit 1.86 million, is the key factor influencing the committee's decision this year.

Job centre vacancies in the year to September were down 28% in England and 32% in Scotland, the committee said, while unemployment in Bulgaria and Romania, although high by EU standards, is falling and there even are labour shortages in some industries.

'Compelling evidence'

The government's decision was welcomed by the National Farmers Union, whose members rely on migrant labour to harvest seasonal crops.

NFU horticulture board chairman Richard Hirst said: "We welcome the announcement by the Home Office that there will be an increase in the number of SAWS permits.

"The decision reflects the compelling evidence put by the industry that there is insufficient seasonal labour to pick and harvest crops."

The announcement was also welcomed by a cross-party group on balanced immigration, which said it would have been "foolish" to ease restrictions at a time of rising unemployment.

In a joint statement, the group's co-chairmen, Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, said: "Now the government needs to act to tighten up other immigration controls, so that foreign workers cannot come here "on spec" to look for work, and also to ensure that all jobs are advertised in the UK first - and cannot be given straight to foreign workers."

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