Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Seventh Report


Government Response


  The Government welcomes the Committee's overall conclusion that economic migration by third country nationals is important to the economies of EU Member States; and that such migration needs to be regulated in the interests of all parties concerned; and that because of the diversity of labour market needs and requirements the detailed criteria governing it should remain a responsibility of Member States.

  This memorandum responds to each of the Committee's conclusions, individually responding to paragraphs 110 to 130 of the report.

  110.  Any common EU policy on economic migration would have to build into its basic design sufficient flexibility to accommodate national and regional variations. The ability of the EU to achieve a common position in the field of services suggests that a similar consensus on broad guidelines for economic migration might be attainable, but it is unlikely that the Member States would accept it (paragraph 19).

  We agree. As the Committee's report notes there is no single EU labour market, so a single framework to regulate access to such a thing does not make sense. The differences in the systems within Member States are significant and a common policy will be difficult to reconcile with national interests or be capable of effective implementation.

  111.  There is little to fear—and much to gain—from the extension of freedom of movement rights to the new Member States (paragraph 24).

  We agree. The benefits to the UK of providing nationals of the new Member States with access to our labour market have been clear. Since 1 May 2004, accession workers have filled vacancies in sectors which face shortages of labour, including hospitality and catering and agriculture. They are contributing to the success of the economy. They have not been a burden on the benefit system or public services.

  However, the terms of the accession treaty with the new Member States make this a decision for an individual Member State, at a time of their choosing during the period on which the derogation on access to a Member State's labour market exists.

  112.  It would be in the EU's interest to extend full free movement rights to the A8 countries as soon as possible. Until that happens, it would be inappropriate—and inconsistent with the need for solidarity with the new Member States—to relax controls on the admission of third country national workers (paragraph 26).

  We share the Committee's view that the issue of intra-EU mobility, in particular in relation to the new Member States, should be addressed before additional proposals are considered regarding the control of third country nationals entering the EU for the purposes of employment.

  All EEA Nationals, including those from the accession states have a right of free movement throughout the EEA. This right existed from date of accession. However the right of movement as a worker was subject to a derogation which allows individual Member States to set terms on which a national from Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia can access the labour market of another Member State.

  The United Kingdom's experience of opening up its labour market to nationals from the new Member States has been a positive one. We agree that other Member States can note our positive experience and this could assist them in making a decision on when they will provide access to their labour markets, but this is a matter for them. The new Member States might well object if controls on the admission of third country national workers were relaxed while there were still significant restrictions on A8 workers' rights to free movement within the EU. This should be a factor, although by no means the only one, in making decisions on relaxing controls on the admission of third country nationals.

  113.  On the evidence of the last enlargement, there is a strong case on economic grounds for according nationals of new Member States free movement rights as early as possible following accession, and for there to be a concerted position across the existing Member States with limited opportunity for them to operate different transitional periods (paragraph 27).

  The next wave of enlargement is likely to consist of Bulgaria and Romania, although a precise date of accession has yet to be agreed. Whilst both countries nationals will have a right of free movement from accession, access to another Member State's labour market is subject to a derogation very similar to that imposed on a number of states in 2004.

  No Member State has yet made a decision on how they will apply this derogation following accession. The UK will make its decision at the appropriate time.

  114.  Managing the migration aspirations of nationals of candidate countries, coupled with investment in infrastructure and jobs in the candidate country, is the best way to avoid fears of disruption to the labour market in the period following accession (paragraph 28).

  We agree. Before accession to the EU, a candidate country must carry out substantial reforms which are subject to rigorous scrutiny by the European Commission and Member States. Many of the reforms that candidate countries must undertake in order to meet the economic criteria for membership and the relevant chapters of the acquis promote competitiveness, long-term growth and employment. In particular, the requirement to restructure state industries, reform public administration and ensure free movement of capital, goods and workers. The Commission provides funding to support this process of economic development through a number of pre-accession funds. All of these measures provide wider economic opportunities for citizens of candidate countries, and thus reduce migration pressures in the period following accession.

  We also agree that it is important to manage expectations of candidate country nationals. Our overseas posts play a key role in educating citizens of candidate countries about the nature of the opportunities available in the UK for legal migrants.

  The Government has not yet decided whether and how to apply transitional arrangements on free movement workers from the current candidate countries. The risk of disruption to the UK labour market would, of course, be a factor in this decision.

  115.  Economic migration from outside the present EU will continue to be needed (paragraph 29).

  We agree that the UK economy is likely to continue to need to admit people selectively from outside the EU where they have particular skills that can benefit the UK and where a demand for labour cannot be met from domestic sources or EU channels.

  116.  We do not believe that it is possible to set an overall limit for net immigration (paragraph 43).

  We agree the UK needs a system which is flexible and responsive, not a rigid, arbitrary quota.

  117.  We endorse the Government's view that national economic considerations should remain the primary determinant of the level of economic immigration, provided that this is not at the expense of the interests of the other parties involved, notably the sending countries and, most importantly, the migrant workers themselves, whose rights must not be infringed (paragraph 43).

  We are pleased that the Committee shares the Government's view that national economic considerations should remain the primary determinant of the level of economic immigration, while taking due account of the interests of other parties. We will continue efforts to mitigate the impact of skills losses on vulnerable countries and sectors. We consider that the rights of migrant workers are adequately protected in UK law, including under the Human Rights Act 1998.

  118.  All forms of control of economic migration—work permits, sectoral schemes, quotas, Green Cards and points systems—are difficult for State authorities to operate efficiently, if only on account of incomplete knowledge of the labour needs of different sectors of their own economy and differing objectives relating to them. It would be much more difficult, if not impracticable, to operate any of these methods of control at EU level (paragraph 64).

  We, once again, share the Committee's view on the difficulty of operating a method of control which may not reflect the individuality of Member States' labour markets.

  119.  We again urge the Government to participate fully in EU immigration and asylum policy. We believe that it would be to the advantage of the United Kingdom to do so. It is damaging to be seen as only partially engaged in this important area of policy. The United Kingdom's recent exclusion from measures in which it would be in its interests to participate underlines the increasing difficulty of maintaining its present position and bears out, we regret to say, the warnings that we have given to this effect in the past (paragraph 73).

  The Government has noted the Committee's recommendation for the UK to participate fully in EU immigration and asylum policy, but does not agree that it is damaging to be seen as only partially engaged. Our policy is clear. The UK opts in to Title IV measures where we can, provided they are in the national interest and consistent with our policy of retaining frontier controls. In practice, this means we have tended to opt in to measures on asylum and illegal migration, but do not tend to participate in legal migration measures. We do not agree with the way in which the UK has been excluded from certain measures; our challenge to the European Court of Justice should provide clarity to the situation.

  Consistently not participating in EU immigration and asylum measures does lessen UK influence and risks isolating us from a body of law that is largely of benefit. Therefore the UK pursues the policy that it is in our broader interest to remain as engaged as possible with the EU on these matters. It has been the UK's policy since the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam to opt in to all EU measures on asylum and immigration (Title IV TEC) that are in the national interest and do not conflict with our desire to retain control over our own borders.

  120.  While accepting that there is a role for the EU in setting out some guiding principles, particularly in providing protection for migrant workers, we see no case for micro-management of admission for employment at EU level. Given their very different economic situations, Member States need to retain the ability to respond flexibly and promptly to their labour market needs, which are unlikely to coincide across the EU. This is more likely to meet the needs of companies than a cumbersome central bureaucracy (paragraph 82).

  The Government agrees that Member States need to retain the ability to respond flexibly and quickly to national labour market needs. Added value may be gained from an EU role in setting out some guiding principles but not in seeking to micro-manage employment admission policy.

  121.  Community preference is an important principle supporting the fundamental freedom of movement of workers, and we support its extension to resident third country nationals. Its practical effect is inevitably limited by the low level of labour mobility within the EU. It is important to avoid excessive bureaucracy, and additional burdens should not be placed on employers (paragraph 84).

  We would agree with the Committee that community preference is an important principle with regard to allowing the free movement of workers who are Member State nationals throughout the EEA. This preference also applies in the UK to those third country nationals that are settled here.

  On extending this principle to those who are settled in other Member States but are not EEA nationals, our view is that our national interest and frontier policy should take primacy; those people who are non-EEA nationals but resident in an EU Member State should not be treated differently from other non-EEA nationals.

  122.  In view of the wide differences between the economies of the Member States and their need for economic migrants, we are sceptical of the case for any detailed regulation at EU level of admission for employment or self-employment. We believe that the main scope for EU intervention is in ensuring that the schemes operated by Member States are sufficiently transparent, and protect the rights of migrant workers effectively (paragraph 86).

  We share the Committee's view that the main scope for EU intervention may be in ensuring that schemes operated by Member States are sufficiently transparent. We believe regulation concerning rights for migrant workers is a matter for Member States.

  123.  There is no need for the EU to become engaged in the detailed regulation of general self-employed migration (paragraph 87).

  We agree.

  124.  While an informal early warning system may provide some reassurance to Member States, We see no need for a more direct control of regularisations at EU level. There is no reason to think that regularisations lead to immediate large scale movement to other Member States (paragraph 90).

  Regularisation campaigns in one Member State do not necessarily impact immediately on other Member States. However, that is not to say that the Member State carrying out the regularisation does not attract more illegal immigration to itself.

  As the United Kingdom has not signed up to the Long-term Residents Directive, we are not affected by the medium-term impacts of regularisations in other Member States.

  The UK shares its EU partners' commitment to improve the exchange of information on national immigration and asylum measures, and welcomes the Commission's proposed draft decision to establish a web-based network.

  125.  The Government should commission research into the likely costs and consequences of acceding to the United Nations Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and seek to develop a political consensus towards it, both within the United Kingdom and across the EU (paragraph 97).

  We have no plans to commission such research.

  126.  We urge the Government to reconsider the case for acceding to the Council of Europe Convention on migrant workers (paragraph 99).

  We have no plans to reconsider our position on this Convention.

  127.  Differentiating between some migrant workers and others on the basis of the length of their residence in the territory can only be justified where there are very specific reasons (paragraph 103).

  There are specific reasons why some categories of worker have a route to settlement and others do not and these do not solely relate to skill level but, instead, to the purpose of the scheme. The Committee has cited the example of seasonal workers and au pairs. In the case of the UK's Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, this is a scheme under which workers are admitted for an entirely temporary purpose i.e to pick seasonal crops. Furthermore, participants are overseas students who we might reasonably expect to return overseas to resume their studies. In the case of our arrangements for au pairs, this is not primarily a labour scheme but rather a youth mobility scheme which offers participants the opportunity to come here and gain some knowledge of the English language and way of life before returning overseas. Given the purpose of these schemes it seems quite reasonable that they should not lead to permanent residence.

  We do not think that, in principle, low-skilled migration schemes should lead to permanent residence here. The net long-term benefits of admitting low-skilled workers permanently are less clear that they are in the case of highly skilled workers. If they are being admitted to undertake low paid work, there is inevitably a question about the balance between the economic contribution they would make and the burden that they and their families might in the long run place on the welfare system and public services.

  128.  We once again urge the Government to opt into both the Long-term Residents Directive and the Family Reunification Directive. Such a move would strengthen the rights of the United Kingdom's economic migrants and enable them to enjoy equality with economic migrants in the rest of the EU (paragraph 105).

  UK policy is to opt in to Title IV measures where we can, provided they are consistent with our policy of retaining frontier controls.

  We have consistently not opted into legal migration measures such as the Family Reunification Directive and Long-term Residents Directive because we wish to retain our frontier control and maintain domestic control over who is admitted to the UK, as provided for by our protocol on Title IV of the Amsterdam treaty.

  The Long-term Residents Directive would give long term residents from one Member State the effective right to enter a second Member State and apply for residence there, provided they met certain conditions. We believe that, whilst the Directive contains many provisions which are entirely consistent with our policy on participation in EU immigration measures, giving third country nationals an enforceable right to enter the UK conflicts with that policy.

  In view of this, we will not be reviewing our decision to opt out of these Directives. In remaining outside these Directives it is not the Government's intention that the UK should be seriously out of line with our European partners and we will continue to monitor the UK's position in relation to that of other Member States.

  129.  In order to address the categories of economic migrants who do not benefit from the Long-term Residents Directive, we recommend that further provision be made to grant to all third country national migrant workers:

    —  the right to change employers after 12 months' continuous lawful employment;

    —  the right to a reasonable period (not less than six months) to seek employment in the event of the termination of previous employment; and

    —  equality as regards social rights (at least core benefits) (paragraph 106).

  Legal migrants, including those from third countries, have the same employment rights as any UK workers in a similar situation. Any third country nationals admitted to the UK for employment on the basis of a work permit can already change employment at any time during their stay although they need to make a new application on the basis of their new employment.

  Should the employment end without new employment starting, then the basis of the third country national's stay in the UK is at an end and they are expected to make arrangements to leave. We have no plans to provide for a right to all third country national workers to seek a new job in the event of a termination of employment, although there is scope for discretion in applying this principle to individual cases.

  The implications of granting third country national migrant workers equality as regards social rights are potentially very broad, and must be balanced against the costs. However, it is worth noting that third country national migrant workers already have access to contributory benefits on the same basis as UK nationals.

  130.  We see little justification within a single market for differentiating at national level as regards the rights of migrant workers. We recommend that the provision of a common core of rights for migrant workers should be the focus of an EU policy on economic migration (paragraph 107).

  In the UK legal migrant workers already have the same employment rights as UK workers. As already stated, all third country nationals also have access to contributory benefits on the same basis as UK workers. However, non-EEA nationals working in the UK do not have access to income related benefits. This is because they are normally issued with a work permit for a specific employer and limited leave on the understanding that there is no recourse to public funds. This strikes the right balance between providing social insurance and protecting the public purse.

  Our policy is clear—that we will opt into those EU measures that are in the national interest and consistent with retaining frontier controls. We believe that access to benefits for migrant workers who are third country nationals and do not have existing rights under EU law should remain a matter for individual Member States and do not believe that any common core of rights at EU level should extend into this area.

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