Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Increase in foreign-born workers

Derek Simpson
Unite leader Derek Simpson handed in a petition to Downing Street

The number of non-UK born workers employed in Britain went up by 214,000 to 3.8 million last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The number of UK-born workers fell by 278,000 to 25.6 million over the same period, the figures show.

Campaigners have urged the government to toughen up entry requirements.

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the percentage of foreign born workers in the UK - 8% of the workforce - was "lower than in many other countries".

He told MPs at prime minister's questions that those calling for more curbs on non-EU migrant workers would "see an impact" on this year's figures thanks to the government's new points based system.

He was responding to a question from Tory MP Julian Brazier, who said the government had issued a record 150,000 work permits to non-EU citizens last year.

Shortage occupations

The employment figures were issued by the ONS at the same time as unemployment figures, showing the number of people out of work rose to 1.97 million between October and December, the highest level since 1997.

The figures showed that in the 12 months to fourth quarter of 2008, employment of all workers in the UK, both UK and non-UK born, fell by 59,000.

As the recession bites, this strengthens still further the case for making a sharp reduction in the number of non-EU workers permitted to come to Britain
Sir Andrew Green, Migration Watch

The non-UK figures include EU citizens, who are free to seek jobs in the UK, except those from Bulgaria and Romania.

The government has placed a temporary ban on unskilled workers from outside the EU under its new points based system, which replaces work permits.

Skilled workers from non-EU countries are restricted to jobs on a shortage occupation list.

Highly skilled workers from outside the EU gain points according to age, qualifications, earning history and command of English to gain entry.

Industrial unrest

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaign group Migration Watch, called on the government to use the points based system to further restrict the flow of non-EU migrants into the UK.

"As the recession bites, this strengthens still further the case for making a sharp reduction in the number of non-EU workers permitted to come to Britain under the points based system."

The employment of foreign labour has been a high profile issue recently after a week-long dispute at the French-owned Lindsey oil refinery in eastern England, which was settled when operators Total agreed to hire more local employees.

Derek Simpson, joint leader of the Unite trade union delivered a petition to Gordon Brown on Wednesday, calling on him to insist employers give British workers fair access to work on UK engineering and construction projects.

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