Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 18:08 UK

East Europe worker 'curbs' kept

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The number of eastern European workers coming to the UK is down

A scheme to monitor workers coming from eight eastern EU countries is to be maintained for another two years, the Home Office has said.

The Worker Registration Scheme which tracks new workers was due to be scrapped this month, five years after the eight countries became EU members.

The government said the system would now remain in place until 2011 to allow it to count immigrant numbers.

The Conservatives said the scheme served "no useful purpose".

The scheme enables the government to monitor the work migrants from new EU countries do, and where in the country they do it - and so better plan for local services.

It covers immigrant workers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Slovakia, among 10 countries which joined the EU in May 2004. Workers from Romania and Bulgaria are barred from taking most forms of work in the UK under a separate ruling.

Review

The number of eastern Europeans moving to the UK for work has fallen, according to the Home Office.

In the three months to December last year there were 29,000 applications from workers from the eight countries - down from 53,000 in the same period in 2007, its figures suggest.

Migrants from the eight accession countries do not have full access to benefits until they have been working and paying tax for at least 12 consecutive months under the scheme.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said: "Migration only works if it benefits the British people, and we are determined to make sure that is what happens.

"That is why I am delighted to announce that we are keeping in place restrictions which mean we can continue to count how many people are coming here, and which limit eastern Europeans' access to benefits."

It is ridiculous spin to describe this scheme as 'strict working restrictions'
Sir Andrew Green, Migration Watch UK

Under the terms of EU membership in 2004, the Worker Registration Scheme - enabling governments to collect information on all workers moving to live in any of the existing EU countries - must end in 2011, but had to be reviewed by 2009.

The Home Office's Migration Advisory Committee looked at the situation in the UK and eight other older EU countries, advising that the system should stay in place.

Chantal Hughes, the European Commission's spokeswoman on employment and social affairs, said: "The UK is obviously entitled to retain restrictions for a further two years.

"If they wish to do so they need to notify the Commission before May 1 and explain why lifting any remaining restrictions would cause a 'serious disturbance to the labour market or threat thereof', as set out in the accession treaty".

'Stable doors'

"We've said many times before, we encourage all member states to lift remaining restrictions to free movement of workers as quickly as possible as all the evidence we have clearly shows it makes sense, and brings substantial economic benefits to all involved."

For the Conservatives, shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: "Yet again we hear the banging of stable doors too late.

"No one who claims to be self-employed has to register under this scheme, so it serves no useful purpose in limiting the numbers of those coming here."

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage accused the UK government of "political theatre" over continued restrictions on immigrant workers.

He said the registration scheme was voluntary and offered no protection to UK workers.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaign group Migration Watch UK, said: "It is ridiculous spin to describe this scheme as 'strict working restrictions'.

"There are no restrictions at all on Eastern European workers coming to work in Britain.

"This scheme merely records their arrival and, after a year, gives them full access to the welfare state."

But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the registration scheme should be dropped now.

"This scheme was never designed to limit the number of workers from the A8 group of countries coming to the UK. Keeping it will make no difference to their numbers. The decision to prolong it is therefore perplexing as it serves no real purpose."

Workers who did not register were denied employment rights leaving them open to abuse by unscrupulous employers, he added, and "this in turn threatens the pay and conditions of other workers. It would have been more sensible to allow this unhelpful scheme to expire."

The deportation referral threshold for European criminals has also been cut from 24 months imprisonment to 12 months for drugs, violent and sexual offences. This means these offenders will be automatically considered for deportation.



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