Sunday, August 27, 2006

Immigration & Eastern Europe

Much has been made in the past few days about the numbers of Eastern Europeans that have entered the UK since 2004; this is estimated to have been around 600,000 since June 2004(though some will have now returned home). This has of course provoked great debate about whether we were right to have allowed them to work in the UK from day one (unlike most of our European neighbours) and whether it was the right decision. In my own ward of Pollards Hill, the growth of Eastern Europeans especially Polish in the area has been noticeable, attending my local Catholic church in Pollards Hill, I have also noticed the considerable influx of Polish people.

I believe that the Government was right to have allowed them to work here from day one, as a country we currently have pretty much full employment with staff shortages in many areas, indeed recruiting staff too many of the occupations that the Eastern Europeans have filled has proved extremely difficult. If the position had been different or economic circumstances were as they were under the Tories it may have been a different decision and any Government would be right to consider this.

Many of the immigrants from the Eastern European countries are also unlikely to stay here long-term, indeed many, once they have saved enough money many will return to their country. I also know through friends in the Polish community, that many Polish intend to return when they have saved enough, many will not be staying here permanently. With low wages in Poland, they can earn the money that they would have earned in Poland in a fraction of the time. From experience, many of them are extremely hard working and the levels that have claimed benefits after a qualifying period is pretty small. This country was right to impose restrictions on claiming benefit. With both my parents being Irish and having come to England in the sixties to seek a better life and increased opportunities, their motivation to come here and seek a better life is something to be welcomed.

We are also not the only country that has a growing Eastern European population; Ireland has also seen a larger influx with one on ten of the population now from Eastern Europe (a much larger figure in proportion). If this has been replicated in the UK, it would be six million people. This is having an even more profound impact on the country then it is in the UK and in a country where until recently they have had very little experience of immigration

I believe, it would have better for EU members to have lifted controls collectively in 2004 when they joined the EU. Given the state of many European countries, along with many having much higher unemployment then in the UK, this was not possible. I can also understand the concerns in this country about Bulgaria and Romania, two countries that are much poorer then any of the 2004 accession countries. In terms of freedom of labour for both those countries, the Government needs to give serious consideration too what our European neighbours are doing. I suspect that Government will retain controls on both these countries, as other European Union countries are likely to impose work restrictions. The impact in terms of social-cohesion is also something that needs to be considered.

Long-term the whole debate on immigration needs to be conducted in a much more sensible and pragmatic fashion rather then the mass hysteria driven stories that are daily occurrence in the Mail and Express. It is right that Government does have restrictions on immigration but it should also be recognised about the positive impact they bring in many instances to this country and how they have contributed to our economic success over the years.


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