Migrants to be targeted in new ad campaign

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The Independent Online

Ministers are planning to launch a hard-hitting advertising campaign in Britain in an attempt to discourage immigrants from abusing the benefits system and also to deter illegal immigrants.

This comes as the Government prepares for an influx of thousands of workers from 10 countries, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, that join the EU in May.

Initial talks are understood to have already taken place between the Home Office and officials at COI Communications, the agency that works on government advertising campaigns, on drawing up a campaign that would feature on television and in newspapers.

The Home Office said no final decisions had been made about the campaign, but that officials were looking at the options available for getting the message across.

"Ministers do want to make sure that the public are aware of the scale of immigration," a spokeswoman for the Home Office said. "No final decisions have been made. We are looking at options."

It has already been reported that the Home Office is planning an immigration awareness campaign in the Czech Republic to warn people planning to come to Britain about the dangers of illegal trafficking. They are currently drawing up a television and radio advertising strategy with the help of the International Organisation for Migration, which educates workers about the risks of immigration.

Working without permits

There are plenty of ways of getting in 'under the radar'. Here are interviews with just three who have joined a scam:

From au pair to a topless bar

Jana, a 19-year-old Czech from a city near Prague, who now works in a strip bar, came to London just two months ago - as an au pair.

Her story is similar to many others. Jana finished high school but, having poor English, did not pass the examinations for university. She didn't really mind. Coming to London for one year as an au pair seemed a perfect alternative to higher education. "English was not required, as long as you were single without kids and didn't smoke," says Jana.

The au pair agency called her back just a few days after she applied: the family lives in north London, they have two small children and will be expecting you this Saturday at Victoria coach station.

The conditions were poor. With a wage of £50 a week, she couldn't afford a travel pass or the £40 a week needed for English classes.

She left after an argument with the mother. Instead of heading back home, she joined her schoolmate - another former au pair - in a strip bar, "just serving drinks". The bar pays her the minimum wage (£4.75 an hour), but the tips are good. On a busy Friday night, Nina can earn twice her au pair wage. "My mum would kill me if she knew where I work. I call her every morning, pretending that I have just taken the kids to school."

Student without a school

This London language school is known all across north Poland. Not because it's the best one, but because it's the cheapest work permit you can buy. You pay only £250 for a semester and receive a paper confirming that you are signed up for full-time study in the UK. You then get a student visa, allowing 20 hours of work a week.

Although Wojtek, 27, has "studied" English at this school for nearly three years, he has never been there and even wonders whether it exists. Wojtek graduated in English and history at the University of Szczecin, but left the region - which has an unemployment rate of more than 20 per cent - for London.

His cousins found him cheap accommodation, helped him set up a bank account - a prerequisite for finding a job - and after a few phone calls, they found him a job in the kitchen of a bar in Mayfair.

No work permit

When Britain decreed that Slovaks no longer needed visas last December, Nina, a 24-year-old student of north European languages, decided to skip the summer semester and spend a few months working in London - without a work permit.

A letter from her English childhood pen friend persuaded immigration officials that she did not intend to stay in the country. Following instruction from another black economy worker and with a fake CV, she started to work in a coffee bar in Camden Town.

Nina kept postponing showing her permit, creating a more absurd excuse every day. "After two weeks the truth prevailed, I didn't have one," she says. It was just a few days after New Year's Eve - a time when there are more bartenders than guests in the restaurants. According to the bar managers, it was the right time to return to Slovakia.

Interviews by Zuzana Janeckova