EU chief says immigrants boost UK economy

Immigrants from new EU countries have boosted Britain's economy and Britons should welcome new immigrants to the UK, the European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on 28 April.

Immigration, legal and illegal, has been a key theme for all major political parties in the campaign for the UK election on May 5, with tabloid newspapers playing on fears that the country is being overrun by benefit-seeking foreigners.

But Rehn said migrants were good for Britain, one of only a few EU states to allow free movement of workers into the country from the moment of the EU's eastern expansion last May.

"I find it very positive that the United Kingdom has been one of the countries that has consistently supported enlargement on the basis of strict accession criteria," he said in an interview.

"I trust that the UK, as a relatively liberal economy, and UK citizens, have the capacity to understand the benefits of moderate immigration, which we are talking about when we are talking about the consequences of EU enlargement."

The relatively small flow of legal immigrants from the mostly ex-communist states of central and eastern Europe had helped the economy, he said. "It has been beneficial to the UK economy in filling gaps in some sectors such as hotels and restaurants, or healthcare and some other services, and thus also helping to maintain low inflation in a situation where unemployment in the UK is at the very low level of 4.7 percent," Rehn said.