'Guest workers' invited in plan to cut illegal labour

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Thousands of guest workers from Eastern Europe and countries in the New Commonwealth will be invited to come to Britain under government plans to cut back on illegal immigration.

Thousands of guest workers from Eastern Europe and countries in the New Commonwealth will be invited to come to Britain under government plans to cut back on illegal immigration.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, published proposals yesterday that would extend opportunities for economic migrants to come to Britain legally and take up low-paid temporary jobs.

The plans, subject to a consultation exercise, will allow thousands more young workers to spend the summer and autumn doing jobs in fields, hotels and building sites.

Farmers have complained this year that they have been unable to find sufficient seasonal labour to harvest the daffodil and asparagus crops because young Britons are increasingly unwilling to take up such work.

The Government said yesterday that it was prepared to allow more than the current 20,000 fruit and vegetable pickers who came legally to Britain last year under the Season Agricultural Workers Scheme.

Ministers are also prepared to extend the length of the eligible agricultural season and widen the programme to include the hospitality and construction industries.

But Britain's farmers claimed yesterday that the proposals did not go far enough and that there would be a shortfall of up to 40,000 seasonal farm workers this year.

The National Farmers' Union said the only long-term solution to the problem was a green-card system that allowed registered workers to come to Britain throughout the year.

Bob Fiddaman, the NFU's employment and training chairman, said: "We have needs throughout the year in all parts of the industry like daffodil growers and turkey farmers who require seasonal staff outside the traditional harvest period. Clearly, a more flexible system is needed."

The Government also moved to reduce discrimination in the Working Holidaymaker Scheme, which allows young people to come to Britain for a two-year holiday and support themselves with the help of incidental employment. More than 38,000 young people took up the scheme in 2000.

Yesterday's consultation document highlighted the fact that the scheme had traditionally been used by people from the Old Commonwealth countries of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.

But while 17,000 Australians participated in the programme in 2000, only 224 people from Ghana and 25 from Sri Lanka took up the scheme.

The report admitted that many people from the New Commonwealth found it hard to convince immigration officials that they had sufficient funds to support themselves and that they would return home after two years.

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