Threatened 'tide of EU migrants' is just a trickle, says minister

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The flood of workers to Britain from former Iron Curtain countries that joined the European Union on 1 May has failed to materialise, the immigration minister said last night.

The flood of workers to Britain from former Iron Curtain countries that joined the European Union on 1 May has failed to materialise, the immigration minister said last night.

Des Browne signalled a major push by the Government to regain the initiative on immigration issues as he disclosed that just a "trickle" of eastern European economic migrants had arrived in Britain in the last six weeks.

After the scandal that cost his predecessor Beverley Hughes her job, Mr Browne will also today announce an overhaul of the rules on visas for Romanians and Bulgarians wanting to work in Britain.

And a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) is expected to make scathing criticism of the fiasco when hundreds of applications were waved through by Home Office officials.

Before 1 May, there had been forecasts that up to 50,000 migrant workers from countries including Poland and Slovakia could be drawn to Britain. Rattled ministers took emergency action to tighten the controls on east European migrant workers, but this country still has a more liberal regime than France, Germany and Italy.

But in Mr Browne's first major policy speech, he said: "Early indications are that there has not been a 'flood' of new entrants and the majority of those who have registered were already in the UK before 1 May. We know from current trends that those most likely to migrate will do so for limited periods of time, weeks or months, rather than years."

He told a meeting of the Institute of Public Policy Research that allowing the new EU citizens to work in this country made "good economic sense". He added: "The UK is benefiting from increased labour market flexibility and a pool of workers with the skills, qualifications and willingness to help fill shortages in sectors such as hospitality, catering and agriculture." Mr Browne said there was an "added benefit that they, and the firms that employ them, are no longer undercutting legal workers and genuine employers".

Yesterday police said they smashed a "South African" student visa scam believed to have brought 1,000 people into the country illegally. Some 120 officers from Scotland Yard's specialist crime directorate raided 12 addresses across London and Essex, including two suspected bogus colleges in Tooting, and arrested 20 people.

The suspects were detained on suspicion of immigration offences and money laundering.

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