Curry chefs and chicken sexers welcome

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Indian chefs and foreigners trained to distinguish cocks from hens are to be given work permits to come to Britain in a liberalisation of the country's labour laws.

Indian chefs and foreigners trained to distinguish cocks from hens are to be given work permits to come to Britain in a liberalisation of the country's labour laws.

Ministers will announce changes today to make it easier for firms to bring workers from abroad to fill gaps in employment skills in Britain.

The Department of Employment has drawn up a list of sectors where foreigners will find it easier to come to Britain to fill vacancies. They will allow Indian restaurants to bring in curry chefs, farms to recruit chicken sexers and information technology (IT) firms to hire computer experts.

Although Indian cuisine is among the most popular in Britain, chefs to cook it are in short supply. But the greatest shortage lies in IT, which accounts for one in five applications for work permits.

In future, such skilled workers will need only three years' experience, instead of five, to qualify and will be able to stay longer, for five years rather than four. Firms will not have to advertise repeatedly in the trade and national press before hiring a foreigner.

A pilot scheme will allow some firms, including Rolls-Royce, to transfer foreigners working within the company more easily. They will be allowed to certify work permits themselves, subject to spot checks from the employment service. Ministers plan to scrap the requirement for foreign graduates to have two years' experience on top of their degrees.

The change is likely to provoke Tory MPs, who will claim that it will deprive Britons of jobs and spark an influx of immigrants and their families. But ministers insist that the changes are part of a wider employment and training strategy.

"We are responding effectively to the skills shortage facing UK companies and we want to sustain British competition," said Margaret Hodge, an Education and Employment minister. "We are not going to reduces employment chances for UK workers. Our aim is to have a modern and efficient work-permit system."

The Government is also discussing plans to make it easier for foreign students at British universities to find work when they graduate.

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