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UK retains labor curbs on East European workers

  Britain opted on Wednesday to retain strict restrictions on East Europeans seeking work at a time of rising unemployment and a dramatic downturn in the country’s economy.

It also introduced tougher powers to remove those not complying with labor rules, introduced under the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) in 2004. Workers affected are those from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The government made the decision following independent advice from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) which said the restrictions were needed to preserve jobs for local workers.

Unemployment hit a 12-year high in March, topping the 2 million mark, during one of the most severe downturns since the 1930s Depression.

“Migration only works if it benefits the British people, and we are determined to make sure that is what happens,” said Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas.

Anyone from the eight countries who is not self-sufficient, working or studying will not be allowed to stay, the Home Office (interior ministry) said in a statement.

Tough new powers will also make it easier to deport any European convicted of drugs, violent or sexual offences after the interior ministry cut the deportation referral threshold.

Immigration has become a hot issue in Britain after it became the only big European Union country to let citizens of new member states work without restriction when the bloc added 10 mainly Eastern European members in 2004.

Some fear that rapid migration has undercut British-born workers and put strain on housing, education and health services. The restrictions will remain in place until 2011.

The number of Eastern Europeans applying to work in Britain has fallen. In the three months to December last year, there were 29,000 applications from workers from these countries -- down from 53,000 in the same period in 2007.

Last December, the government decided to keep labor restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers. (Reuters)