Farmers continue to plead for the Home Office to relax quotas to allow more workers from Bulgaria and Romania to come to the United Kingdom under its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). There are also calls to allow nationals from outside the European Union to participate in the program as well.
The SAWS scheme was originally implemented to allow nationals from outside the EU to work in the UK temporarily in the agricultural sector. The scheme was set to be discontinued at the end of 2006 but was kept on for nationals of Bulgaria and Romania after those countries acceded to the EU on 01 January of this year.
Lord Rooker, minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has sided with the farmers on the issue, but Immigration Minister Liam Byrne disagrees.
"We are phasing out low-skilled migration from outside Europe because we think businesses should hire those close to home first," said Mr. Byrne. "Some people have told us our immigration reforms are too draconian, but I think they're right for Britain."
According to Philip Hudson, chief horticultural adviser for the National Farmer's Union, the number of migrants willing to work in the agricultural and horticultural sectors has been declining. Mr. Hudson attributed the decline to other EU nations opening their labor markets as well as the improving economies in Romania and Bulgaria.
Nearly 640,000 Eastern European migrants have registered to work in Britain since May of 2004, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this month. Approximately 8,000 Romanians and Bulgarians were officially registered to work in the UK during the first three months of this year.
Another issue is that migrant workers may want full time jobs ... the SAWS program only allows temporary seasonal work before requiring the migrant to return to their home country.
Immigration figures show that the number of people coming to the UK to work in the agriculture has fallen. 22,700 migrants registered to work in the agricultural sector in 2005, but the numbers fell to 19,895 for 2006.
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