Home Office limits visas for workers from outside Europe

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Indy Politics

Work visas allowing thousands of unskilled staff to enter Britain each year are to be abolished.

Two the Home Office-admininstered schemes which allow 18,000 low-skilled immigrants from outside Europe to work in Britain will be phased out within a year, Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, said yesterday. He told employers to recruit staff instead from Britain and the European Union as he announced the clampdown.

Mr Byrne insisted that the British economy had sufficient access to unskilled labour from within the EU and did not need workers from elsewhere.

He said: "Our starting point is now that employers should look first to recruit from the UK and this expanded EU before recruiting migrants from outside. But it makes sense anyway, if they have the skills to do them, to give jobs to people who already have the right to come here freely. So in line with this position we will be phasing out schemes for low-skilled migration from outside the EU."

But he faced an immediate backlash from campaigners who accused ministers of "fuelling the evils of people trafficking and smuggling" and risking increases in illegal immigration by closing legitimate routes to the country.

The two schemes to be cut are the agricultural workers' visa scheme, which admits about 16,000 people each year, and a separate scheme for other sectors of the economy which allows 1,800 people to work in Britain each year. Visa schemes for skilled workers will remain.

The announcement came just days before ministers publish plans to place limits on workers from Bulgaria and Romania seeking jobs in Britain when the two countries join the European Union in January next year. Ministers have hinted that they will impose restrictions on immigrants from the two countries working in Britain, saying that they will allow them only "gradual access" to Britain.

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, warned: "Restricting legal migration routes risks driving more individuals from the poorer countries to enter irregularly and fuelling the evils of people trafficking and smuggling. It will also risk the presence of more irregular workers without rights, potentially making it even more difficult for the domestic workforce to secure employment with good wages and conditions."

Mr Byrne insisted that immigration was good for the British economy, arguing that migrant workers accounted for up to 15 per cent of Britain's annual growth in national income. He denied that there was evidence of British wage or employment rates being hit by immigration from Europe or elsewhere. "There is little correlation between wage rates and levels of immigration," he said.

But he warned that the Government needed to maintain control of Britain's borders to maintain public support for immigration policy. Pledging to introduce a new immigration enforcement strategy. He said: "Even in 1997 a lot of our politics was purely domestic. In our 1997 manifesto we devoted 135 words to immigration. Not any longer. The world turns up on our doorstep all the time.

"We need to be clear: globalisation could be resisted. We could, if we wanted, shut the door behind ourselves. But we shouldn't because, properly managed, globalisation will be a force for good, a progressive force, an engine of progress."