Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


July 2004, Volume 11, Number 3

UK: Migration Crunch

In April 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Britain had reached a "crunch point" in its dealing with migrants and promised a "top-to-bottom" review of migration policies. The UK government will allow Eastern Europeans from the new accession EU-10 to travel freely to Britain in search of jobs, but they will not be allowed to obtain welfare benefits if they cannot find jobs. If they do find jobs, they must register with the government within 30 days.

By June 30, 2004, some 24,000 Eastern Europeans were enrolled in the workers' registry, including 14,000 who were in the UK on May 1, 2004; almost all had no dependents with them.

The ceilings on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAWS), currently 25,000, and for the Sectors Based Schemes (SBS), 10,000 for the hospitality sector and 10,000 for food processing (used to bring migrant workers from Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria and Romania), will be reduced by 35 and 25 percent in 2005, to 16,250 and 15,000. During summer 2004, newspapers sent reporters into the fields, and one reported being paid 17p to pick 400g of strawberries that retailed for L2 to L4; the minimum wage is L4.50 an hour.

In May 2004, gangmasters were bringing crews of 30 to 35 Chinese migrants back to Morecambe Bay to pick cockles. Many are from Fujian, and are smuggled into the UK by snakehead gangs to work in restaurants. However, stepped up enforcement of employer sanctions has pushed more migrants into other work, including cockling. English buyers pay £12.50 per bag of cockles to the Chinese gangmasters, who in turn pay the workers £10 per bag; most workers harvest three bags a day, earning œ30 a day and working seven days a week.

The UK had 59.2 million residents in 2002, and is projected to have 64.8 million in 2031. Some 4.9 million or 8.3 percent of residents in the 2001 Census were born abroad.

Asylum. Some 40,000 Iraqis have applied for asylum in the UK since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, and fewer than 100 had returned to Iraq by early 2004. The government is offering L3,000 to return voluntarily, but this policy has failed to persuade Afghans to return- of the 26,000 Afghans in the UK, only 200 returned with free flights and return grants. In the UK, asylum applicants are placed in hostels, given meals, and those with no funds receive Å“38.26 a week - 70 percent of basic income support.

About 10 percent of the £204 million legal aid budget in 2003 was spent to provide services to asylum applicants. There were 33,000 appeals of negative decisions, and 2,000 were overturned, with the foreigner allowed to stay.

Since 1995, Romanians and Bulgarians have been able to apply for visas to travel to Britain to set themselves up in business. After March 2003, the application process was streamlined, and 8,000 applications were made, 90 percent of which were approved despite often pro forma business plans. In June 2004, the UK said that 23,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK would be checked, and if they did not have viable UK businesses, they would have to leave.

Ireland. To reassure Northern Ireland nationalists after Ireland dropped its territorial claims in 1998, Ireland grants birthright citizenship, which means children born in Ireland are Irish citizens. The European Court of Justice in May 2004 ruled that a non-EU national has the right to live in the UK because of an Irish-born child, prompting the Irish government to propose a constitutional amendment that would grant Irish citizenship to babies born in Ireland only if one of the two non-EU parents had been legally resident in Ireland for three of the previous four years.