Working restrictions for Eastern Europeans will not be scrapped, the UK Government announced today.
The Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) was hurriedly introduced in 2004 to enable the Government to monitor working migration from the eight (A8) former Eastern Bloc countries which joined the EU in 2004.
The scheme 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 still barred from taking most forms of work in the UK under a separate ruling, but can enter the UK without a visa and switch to a student or self employed status under the Yellow Card permission.
The Home Office say that maintaining the restrictions, which must end by 2011, also means that A8 nationals will not be able to claim benefits until they have been working and paying tax for at least 12 consecutive months.
The decision comes following independent, expert advice from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the benefits of the scheme to the British labour market.
Border and 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.”
But Shadow Immigration Minister for the Conservatives, Damian Green, rejected Labour claims:
“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.”
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.”
The number of Eastern Europeans registering to work in the UK has fallen. In the three months to December last year there were 29,000 applications from workers from these countries – down from 53,000 during the same period in 2007.
According to Home Office data, most A8 workers are young – 78% are aged between 18 and 34, and just 11% had dependants living with them in the UK when they registered.
The scheme is confusing for both migrant workers and their employers. Britain was only one of three EU states to grant free movement of labour to A8 citizens, which is why many workers and employers are unaware of the requirement to register.