Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Migrants 'face growing hostility'

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips has called for better training for British workers

Migrants will face growing "hostility" as unemployment rises, equalities watchdog Trevor Phillips has warned.

British-born workers will increasingly feel "edged out" by immigrants with more advanced skills, he said.

The government has announced a 70m fund to help calm tensions in local communities paid for by a 50 levy on visas of people from outside the EU.

But critics say the cash will not have much effect and also warn that the move could stir anti-immigrant sentiments.

Mr Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), said the government should concentrate on helping workers get new skills to help them compete with those from abroad.

British workers at the Lindsey Oil refinery, who staged strikes over the use of EU workers, were, "put simply, not productive or competitive enough", he added.

'Significant benefits'

Speaking at an EHRC conference in London, he said the solution was not to "clamp down" on immigration but to "begin the process of retraining and upskilling in order to ensure that if people are out of work it is for as little time as possible".

The most likely effect on local communities is not that the immigrants will aggravate the impact of the recession for British-born workers, but that the economic downturn will fuel tensions
Migration Policy Institute

The government says it will spend 70m over the next two years in England on projects aimed at easing pressure on local communities.

The Migration Impacts Fund will pay for extra English language lessons to cut translation costs and "help migrants get on in work and integrate in their communities" under a scheme to be rolled out next September.

It could also be used for extra teachers in schools in areas with high migrant populations and "targeted help" for police.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said migration "brings significant benefits to this country" but an "honest discussion" was needed on its impact.

She told the immigration conference she thought migration in to Britain "probably will reduce" in the future.

She said: "I think it will go down but I don't think it's going to disappear tomorrow."

'Underlying drivers'

But a report by the Migration Policy Institute think tank and the EHRC said higher unemployment would not make a big impact on the number of foreign nationals settling in the UK.

It was "highly likely" that the influx of workers from Poland and other East European countries had reached its peak.

But those who arrived in the UK during during the boom years were unlikely to return home because of the recession, it said.

Source countries were also in economic trouble and family and social ties were often a bigger factor in decisions to stay than jobs, it argued.

The Migration Policy Institute also predicted that the number of foreign nationals coming to Britain would "pick up" again when the economy begins to recover.

Its report, by researchers Will Somerville and Madeleine Sumption, found that migration flows were only "partially sensitive to economic conditions".

It said: "In the long run, the underlying drivers of migration... will remain strong, suggesting that migration flows will pick up again during the economic recovery."

'Deep recession'

The report said there was little evidence migrants had taken jobs from British workers or depressed wages but they could still face increasing resentment from British-born workers.

"The most likely effect on local communities is not that the immigrants will aggravate the impact of the recession for British-born workers, but that the economic downturn will fuel tensions, as workers feel less secure economically.

"Immigrants themselves may undergo substantial hardship. Higher unemployment among immigrants is likely to hinder their successful integration."

The government has banned unskilled migrants from outside the EU but the report said there might be a case for a further tightening of entry restrictions on skilled and highly skilled workers under the new points-based system.

It also said the "highly skilled migrant population is unlikely to change dramatically" in the long run, unless there was "a very long and deep recession".

And it warned against excluding too many skilled migrants, arguing that the government's shortage occupation list "simply cannot respond quickly to rapidly changing economic circumstances" and that "strong cutbacks could damage recovery prospects".

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