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Work permit system reconsidered

3 October 2001 - Home Secretary David Blunkett is to review the work permit system for skilled economic migrants.The Home Secretary said:

"Tackling illegal immigration is a vital part of my overhaul of our asylum and immigration system. The scale of our clandestine economy means workers are exploited for poverty pay; the minimum wage and fairness at work legislation is undermined and British tax-payers are defrauded by those avoiding the system.

"Where there are shortages I want to ensure that our economy can benefit from both skilled and lower skilled workers on a sensible and managed basis for those who wish to be employed legally in this country. I want to encourage these workers to apply to work in Britain through the proper channels so our country is as strong as possible in the global economy."

The Home Secretary continued:

" I want to look at managed opportunities for economic migrants who, through a sensible work permit system, could seek and obtain a job legitimately and contribute to our country as well as their own well being. We will start discussions with employers and trade unions on ways in which we can allow skilled migrants into the country; deal with pressures in sectors of the economy where there are labour shortages and allow temporary workers into the country for seasonal employment.

"In January 2002 we will implement the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme. This will allow highly skilled people who meet certain criteria - high level qualifications and specialist skills - to come to the UK to seek work without a specific job offer from an employer, provided that they can support themselves in the meantime.

"We are exploring whether overseas students who graduate in the UK should be able to apply for a work permit without first leaving the country and then reapplying.

"And we will consider the potential for building on the seasonal working scheme which already exists in agriculture - to cover other temporary jobs which cannot be filled by resident workers.

"In addition, we will open discussions with trade unions and employers about how we might meet the needs of specific employment sectors facing severe labour shortages in particular parts of the country such as London and the South East.

"A properly managed system of legal migration would be a body blow to the gangmasters and people traffickers who bring people to this country illegally. I want to move forward with urgency. "

The Home Secretary added:

"We need also to focus hard on the lives of those living in the shadows of our economy in the sub economy. They are often exploited by employers who in the words of Winston Churchill in the House of Commons in 1909 are 'the worst undercut by the very worst'.

"I welcome the Prime Minister's decision to set up a cross-departmental ministerial group chaired by Home Office Minister of State, Jeff Rooker, to examine ways to toughen up the law on illegal working and enable the Immigration Service to act more swiftly against workplaces with illegal workers."


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