Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Out of control

The news today is that nearly a quarter of a million workers from the east and central European enlargement countries have arrived to work in Britain over the past year. (See Daily Telegraph report.)

Half the 232,000 applicants for work under the special registration scheme, in the period May 2004 and June 30 this year have been Polish, predominantly in their 20s, and by far the majority have taken jobs in the catering and hospitality sectors.

One holds no truck with those who hold up their hands in horror at the influx. Having worked in the hotel industry, I am all too familiar the problems of recruiting staff and, even during periods of recession, we often found that we could not get staff for certain jobs at any price. To have these cheerful, hard-working and often well-educated youngsters is a boon.

But what cannot pass without comment is the sheer incompetence of Home Office forecasting, which predicted an increase of up to 13,000 workers a year, when the actual number is 232,000 – 15 times more than the forecast. And that is the number the Home Office know about. Those who chose not to register can still apply legally for jobs, and there are no records kept of people who take this option.

However, many of these youngsters have no intention of staying in the country. They are often here temporarily and return to their own country, or move on to others, and therefore impose very little strain on the infrastructure of this country.

The point is, though, that the UK has absolutely no control over the situation. Having elected to grant eastern and central European citizens "freedom of establishment" and being required to grant them free access to the country under EU treaties, the fact that the flow is currently beneficial is not of the government's making.

According to the Telegraph, Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the Migrationwatch UK think-tank, says: "The Home Office must reduce the number of work permits granted to people from outside the EU to compensate for this very large inflow." That may or may not be necessary but, at the very least, we should be able to record – and have the option to control – the numbers entering this country for work.

As it stands, we have given up that control, and can only watch impotently as numbers vastly exceed our expectations. All other issues apart, that is not acceptable.

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