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Britain Prepares for Possible Large Influx of Migrant Workers From New EU Members - 2004-02-23

Britain has unveiled its plans for coping with a possible surge of migrant workers when the European Union expands with 10 new members in just more than two months. Citizens of Cyprus and Malta will not have any special restrictions on coming to Britain, but workers from eight Eastern European countries will be subject to certain conditions.

Speaking in parliament, British Home Secretary David Blunkett conceded it is difficult to gauge just how many economic migrants may enter the country. But he said the door would be open to all who are willing to work.

Mr. Blunkett said a workers registration plan will form the basis of coping with the influx. That means legally registering immigrants and making sure they pay their taxes and contribute to Britain's national insurance program.

He told his colleagues in the House of Commons that it makes sense to all the parties concerned. "This is the right approach for Britain in the 21st century. Fair on ourselves, fair on our new partners, tough on those who would abuse the system," he said.

Home Secretary Blunkett said that means new arrivals who work legally will reap the rewards, but those who come to Britain and do not work will not be allowed to become a burden on British taxpayers.

"We believe that proper legal managed migration is good for Britain and fair to genuine workers from the accession countries," he said. "Whether they are plumbers or pediatricians, they are welcome if the come here openly to work and to contribute. At the same time, it is clearly not right that people should be able to come here, fail to get a job and then enjoy access to the full range of public services and social security benefits."

Part of the plan stipulates that the various government benefits, such as housing assistance, would not be given to any of the migrants who become legally-registered workers for at least two-years after the start of their employment.

"For two years, and possibly longer, we will require accession nationals to be able to support themselves," he said. "If they are unable to do so, they lose any right of residence and will have to return to their own country."

Britain's opposition Conservative party wants a less-restrictive existing workers' permit plan to continue. Mr. Blunkett says that is too bureaucratic and too costly to the employers, the employees, and the government.

The Home Secretary also said the number of people moving to Britain from new EU countries will be closely monitored, and the proposed plan could be amended if the influx turns out to be too great and unmanageable.