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April 2006, Volume 13, Number 2

UK, Ireland

UK. The House of Commons in February 2006 approved on a 310-279 vote a plan to introduce mandatory national identification cards; Britons would get them when they apply for new passports. The government argues that the biometric information, like fingerprints and iris scans, in the new passports and IDs will help the police fight terrorism, organized crime and identity fraud.

Immigration Minister Tony McNulty also announced new measures to track asylum applicants, including electronic monitoring. There are estimated to be 570,000 unauthorized foreigners in the UK.

Between 1991 and 2001, Britain's population increased by 2.2 million to 58 million, with half of the increase due to the settlement of foreign-born residents. The British government published a 146-page booklet, "Life in the United Kingdom," to provide advice to newcomers.

Migrant Policy. Some 345,000 EU-10 workers registered to work in Ireland between May 2004 and March 2006, including 200,000 Poles. Employers report that EU-10 workers are better motivated than British workers who apply for jobs in agriculture and hotels and restaurants

The influx of EU-10 migrants is leading to the abolishment of the Sectors Based Scheme and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.

The UK's new "entry through skills" policy is reducing the number of side doors for nonimmigrants from 80 to five. Under the new policy, non-EU workers are to be admitted to the UK under five preferences or tiers, with Tier 1 for highly skilled professionals such as researchers and managers; tier 2 for skilled workers such as nurses and teachers; tier 3 for unskilled workers filling particular jobs such as construction workers (there are expected to be few non-EU admissions, with EU-10 nationals filling any job vacancies); tier 4 for foreign students; and tier 5 for youth exchange and temporary workers, such as working holidaymakers and entertainers.

A Skills Advisory Body (SAB) will identify labor shortages and design a single-stage application process. For example, Tier 2 applicants are subject to labor market tests to ensure that local workers are not available unless the SAB determines that the foreigners are entering to fill jobs in shortage occupations; the SAB will update the shortage occupation list every six months. In 2005, the leading sectors in which foreign professionals arrived were health and IT. About a seventh of the work permits issued in 2005 were for IT workers, primarily Indians.

The Chinese gangmaster who bought cockles from the 21 Chinese men who drowned in February 2004 said that he paid the workers L8 a bag and sold the cockles for L20 a bag, generating profits of L100 a day. The gangmaster entered the UK as an English-language student in September 2000 and stayed.

Today, many of the cockle pickers are Poles, who are paid L7.50 per 30 kg bag. Some 10,000 tons of cockles were harvested in 2004.

Ireland. Some 160,000 EU-10 workers registered to work in Ireland between May 2004 and December 2005, and EU-10 workers continued to arrive in 2006 at the rate of about 12,000 a month. The Central Statistics Office estimated that 159,000 non-nationals were working in Ireland in September 2005, including 50,000 EU-10 nationals.

Ten years ago there were almost no foreign workers in Ireland. Now there are about 243,000, more than eight percent of the total workforce, with the largest group, about 120,000, from Poland. Half of the 92,000 new jobs created in Ireland in 2005 were filled by immigrants.

There are pockets where unemployment among Irish youth is 20 percent or more, and complaints that some employers expect young people to work for less than the Irish minimum wage of E7.65 an hour. Many Irish have relatively little education: only 25 percent have third-level qualifications, compared to 65 percent of immigrants.

An Irish poll in January 2006 found that most Irish want labor migration reduced. Over 75 percent of respondents think there are enough foreign workers in Ireland, and over 50 percent agreed that the presence of foreign workers made it harder for Irish workers to get jobs.

The main opposition parties, Labour and Fine Gael, charged that foreign workers can displace Irish and exploit the welfare system by receiving payments for non-resident children. As immigration becomes more of a political issue, there are fears that the 2005 National Action Plan Against Racism may be swept aside as Irish people worry about losing their jobs and about government payments to EU-10 nationals.

Kate Holmquist, "No Irish need apply?" Irish Times, March 11, 2006. Tom Hundley, "Poles, other immigrants flood Ireland in search of a little luck," Chicago Tribune, February 3, 2006. John Murray Brown, "Racist jibes fly in Irish debate over benefits for immigrants," Financial times, February 2, 2006.