Secret Cable plan could double flow of economic migrants

February 20, 2011

Just as the Prime Minister is promising that "this year the government is determined to help deliver many thousands of new jobs", Vince Cable is secretly negotiating a deal that will admit tens of thousands of Indian workers to Britain. The deal is part of a Free Trade Agreement being negotiated between the EU and India which is expected to be signed this spring. India is insisting on access for Indian workers as a condition of a wider agreement that would reduce tariffs on European products and lift some restrictions on businesses bidding for public procurement contracts. The proposed deal will allow Indian companies, which have obtained a service contract in Britain, to send over their own employees to do the work. This would cut out any opportunity for British workers and would also allow Indian companies to undercut British firms employing British workers by using cheaper migrant workers from India.

According to leaks from Brussels, the EU Commission is planning to offer India up to 40,000 work permits a year of which the Indians are demanding that the UK share should be 20,000. Negotiations are believed to be continuing between the Commission and the British government. As this is part of a trade agreement, Cable’s Business Department is in the lead. If the government cave in to Brussels the numbers admitted could double economic migration which the government have, after much debate, limited to 20,700 a year.

These visas will be limited to 12 months in any 24 month period so that these workers are not here long enough to be officially classified as immigrants. There are even suggestions that "independent consultants" should be allowed to come in under the same scheme. Significantly, the scheme would include the IT sector where British workers are already feeling the effects of immigrant Indian workers. The government already allow, at Cable’s insistence, an unrestricted flow of workers transferred between international companies for up to 12 months provided that they are paid £24,000 a year. These new arrangements would add further to that flow but, in this case, the arrangements would also be effectively irreversible because they would become part of a trade agreement that falls within "community competence".

The number of jobs in the economy is not fixed. Some new jobs might be created but this flow of cheap labour, however it is classified, is bound to affect the job prospects of British workers. Furthermore, with no exit checks there is no way to ensure the departure of these workers at the end of their contracts. Those who stayed on would add to the net migration that the government has committed to reduce to tens of thousands.

Commenting, Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said "The secrecy surrounding this deal has gone on long enough. Britain's 2.5 million unemployed have a right to know what is going on and to be told why the Prime Minister's pledges both to help create jobs and to cut back net immigration are being seriously undermined in this way. This scheme makes a nonsense of efforts to limit economic migration"

Notes to Editors

1 The Prime Minister held a meeting on the 10 January with business leaders at which he said "This year the government is determined to help deliver many thousands of new jobs and I am delighted that the companies joining me today are part of that. Across a whole range of areas you are going to see the most pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda ever unleashed by a government…by developing the right skills and jobs I am determined that the many not the few will share in the country's prosperity."

2 Further back ground can be found in Briefing Paper {207}.

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