HL Deb 19 May 2004 vol 661 cc31-3WS
Baroness Scotland of Asthal

This is a report to the House on the Government's comprehensive review of legal migration schemes, including details on lifting the suspension of visa restrictions in Bulgaria and Romania.

On 30 March, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that, as part of this wider review, Ken Sutton had been asked to investigate allegations of abuse of the European Community Association Agreements (ECAA) scheme by nationals from Bulgaria and Romania. At the same time, consideration of all visa and after-entry applications from these countries was suspended.

From 13 April, the suspension was lifted for the majority of visa applications in Bulgaria and Romania—for business and family visits, and low-risk categories such as official staff. Visa applications remained suspended for the ECAA scheme, which relates to the self-employed, and for the employment schemes which were being investigated as part of the wider migration review. After-entry applications remained suspended.

At the same time we were in contact with employers and operators who regularly employed Bulgarian and Romanian nationals under the temporary low-skill employment schemes. On 8 April we advised them that if they had pressing short-term labour needs, they should make alternative arrangements, since it could take several weeks before these schemes could be fully reviewed, and any necessary action taken, before they could be reopened.

On 22 April my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that a series of task forces had identified a number of measures which would be implemented to reduce abuse of migration schemes, across all countries. The first set of measures concerned people posing as students, people pretending to provide education or training, and people marrying for immigration purposes. He indicated also that he had ordered a review (again across all countries) of the temporary low-skill employment schemes.

Following that review, we are today announcing changes to the quotas that apply to two temporary low-skill employment schemes, the seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) and the sectors based scheme (SBS). We are also announcing measures which will ensure that these schemes are not open to abuse.

These schemes serve a valuable role in helping UK employers to recruit workers in sectors (agriculture, food processing and hospitality) where there are difficulties in meeting labour needs from the resident workforce. At the same time, it is important that these schemes should now reflect the fact that workers from the countries which joined the EEA on 1 May are now free to seek work in these sectors. Most important of all, it is important that these schemes are protected from abuse.

We are therefore announcing that:

  • The quota for 2005 for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme will be 16,250, a 35 per cent reduction on the current quota; and
  • From 1 June 2004, the existing overall quota for the sectors based scheme will be cut by 25 per cent. There will be a quota of 6,000 SBS permits for the food processing sector and 9,000 SBS permits for the hospitality sector. These quotas will be released in two half-yearly stages.

These reductions are based on the level of take-up of these schemes by accession nationals, prior to accession on 1 May.

We are also announcing that the Home Office will introduce measures intending to ensure that those participating in our temporary employment schemes leave the United Kingdom at the end of their stay. These measures will include applying country-specific quotas within the overall quotas. These country-specific quotas will be made available only where we are confident that the source country will accept their nationals back if they are found to be here illegally.

The Home Office will consult industry on the detail of how these quotas will be applied, and will have immediate discussions in particular with the SAWS operators about action to ensure that the students who come in under this scheme return home at the end of their assignment.

We intend also to change the immigration rules so that those admitted under the SBS will no longer be able to switch into permanent migration schemes, such as work permit employment. Those admitted under SAWS are currently not allowed to switch into permanent migration schemes, and new guidance will be issued to ensure that these rules are being enforced consistently.

We are also issuing new guidance to ensure that applicants for SBS and SAWS are subject to rigorous checks, and to ensure that we act swiftly on the basis of intelligence of abuse, including the use of fraudulent documents.

With these additional controls in place on the temporary low-skill schemes, and in the light of our continuing review of abuse across all migration schemes, we are now in the position to take the next step in the progressive reopening of visa applications from Bulgaria and Romania. With effect from today, we are announcing the lifting of the suspension on applications from Bulgaria and Romania for the temporary low-skill (SAWS and SBS) schemes, for the high-skill schemes (work permits and HSMP), and for all after-entry cases. The one exception is applications from the self-employed under the ECAA scheme, which will remain suspended in the light of the ongoing investigation by Ken Sutton.

Further announcements will be made in due course relating to other aspects of the managed migration review.