UK businesses are increasing their reliance on immigrant human resources in the labour force. Studies by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that 85% of employers had experienced difficulties recruiting staff. Of those with staff shortages, 38% of these employers turned to migrants to fill these vacancies.
The enlargement of the EU in May 2004 has changed the geographical balance. The UK did not impose the temporary restrictions allowed under the accession treaties on the free movement of workers from these countries. In the first 12 months, more than 230,000 eastern European migrants applied to work in the UK.
Their residential status is irrelevant; the most important issue of these immigrants entering the UK's labour market is that they have been issued a National Insurance number, which makes them an integral part of the labour market.
Another bonus to the UK economy is that immigrant workers can not easily access social benefits. The immigrants on the other hand want only to work in the UK.
More than half of those using migrant labour said they had increased the proportion of vacancies filled by overseas workers compared with the previous year. More revealing was that 75 per cent of employers recruited migrant workers on permanent contracts, 19 per cent on one-year contracts, and 16 per cent on short-term contracts.
The government, aware of the arguments about a low-wage economy and creating a low skilled workforce, has launched initiatives to resolve these conflicting pressures.
This has created a complex regime of about 50 ways in which people can come to Britain to work or study.
The points-based immigration system has now been introduced and will come into effect in mid-2007. It is hoped that this will decrease the number of low skilled immigrants from outside the EU, concentrating now on areas of the labour market where there are specific skills shortages.
The Minister of Immigration Tony McNulty, says the changes are not intended to increase or decrease the number of skilled workers coming to the UK, but to ensure that the system is effectively targeted.
In the following years most of the economically developed EU states will need more migrant workers, as an ageing population whose working age account for a declining share, will need migrant labour.
But just as the need for immigrants is rising, so is the demand from some quarters to keep them out. The message is simple. If people are not allowed to come to the work, the work will go to them, with obvious consequences for growth and living standards.