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East European migrants to Britain top 500,000

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) More than half a million East European workers have come to work in Britain since countries such as Poland joined the European Union two years ago, government figures show.

The influx of migrants from the new EU has outstripped the government's expectations and caused a political stir in Britain with calls for tighter controls and complaints migrants undercut resident workers and overload public services.

The government has said workers from Bulgaria and Romania will not enjoy the same open-door policy as their predecessors when those two countries join the bloc next year.

But economists argue the steady flow of cheaper labour has filled holes in the job market, kept a lid on wage growth and, therefore, helped control inflation in the economy.

The government said yesterday 510,000 East Europeans had moved to work in Britain between May 1 2004 and the end of September 2006.

And the influx is gathering pace. Statistics show the number of individuals who applied to work rose to 59,000 between July and September compared with 56,000 in the previous three months.

''The figures show that migrant workers from the accession states are benefiting the UK, by filling skills and labour gaps that cannot be met from the UK-born population,'' Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said in a statement.

Eight central and eastern European countries, including Poland and Hungary, joined the EU in 2004. Bulgaria and Romania will become part of the union in January, but the number of workers allowed into Britain will be restricted.

Ireland has said it will also limit the number of Bulgarians and Romanians it allows in to work, but Spain plans to let them work freely two years after the accession.

In contrast to the rising worker figures, the latest asylum data showed there has been a drop in the number of foreigners seeking political refuge in Britain. Applications for the year to date were at their lowest level since 1993.

Between July and September 2006, asylum applications fell to 5,850 compared with a year earlier. There was also a 26 per cent decline in the number of failed asylum seekers sent home.

The figures showed removals in the first six months of 2006 were at a record high. Alongside them, more than 1,000 foreign prisoners were deported between April and October.

REUTERS SSC RAI0917

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