Migrant permits plan 'impossible'

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Forcing thousands of East Europeans to apply for work permits could bring the creaking bureaucracy of the Home Office close to collapse, a former immigration minister warns today.

Britain has gained moral authority and overseas trade by promising to keep an open door for people from the new EU countries, says Keith Vaz, a former Europe minister.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is to make a statement tomorrow, provoking fears in the 10 "accession" countries that he is about to announce immigration controls. Ten countries, eight of them former communist states, will join the EU on 1 May, making them theoretically subject to laws that entitle any EU citizen to travel freely in search of work to any other EU state.

In fact, 13 of the 15 existing EU states have announced that they are restricting the right of entry from the accession states, with the UK and Ireland as the only exceptions.

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, has demanded that the Government rush through a law compelling citizens of the accession countries to apply for work permits before entering Britain. New statistics are expected to show another fall in the number of people applying for political asylum in the UK - partly because the 10 countries have been judged to be free of political persecution, making their citizens ineligible to claim asylum.

Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Mr Vaz warns that the Government is risking causing lasting resentment in Eastern Europe because "a few cases of asylum-seekers have been blown into tabloid soap operas."