Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Getting the balance right

A Telford solicitor has warned that taking steps to prevent overseas workers coming to Britain to fill skills gaps could create problems for the UK economy.

John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, said: "It's all a question of balance - and often workers from overseas are meeting the skills needs of UK businesses as they cannot find staff with the appropriate skills over here.

"There has been a lot of media coverage of the fact that more than 427,000 Eastern Europeans have come to work in Britain since the expansion of the European Union.

"Research commissioned by the Government had previously estimated the number of annual applications from the eight former Communist countries who joined the EU in May 2004 would be no more than five to 13,000.

"And obviously there are now concerns that with Romania and Bulgaria's expected accession to the EU in January, even more people will be seeking work in the UK.

"But there are restrictions already in place which have been designed to protect workers in the UK, and which employers must adhere to, or they can face tough fines."

John said overseas nationals were free to enter, stay and work in the UK including those from the European Economic Area, certain Commonwealth citizens, and overseas nationals with settled status.

"Some people can come to the UK without a work permit to work in certain occupations, such as trainee nurses, au pairs and private servants, or for a fixed time.

"But all other overseas workers must have a work permit from the Home Office, an immigration employment document, or other specific permission to work here."

John said the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 ruled that employers would be committing a criminal offence if they employed someone who did not have permission to work here.

"And despite the rumours that overseas workers are doing the jobs for less money than their UK counterparts, the salary paid to an immigrant worker has to be at least equal and broadly the same as a UK worker would receive, or the work permit will be refused.

"It's clear that no-one wants to see a flood of overseas workers descending on the UK jobs market at the expense of UK workers, but it's also clear that in some businesses, they bring in valuable skills that cannot be found here at home."