Foreign worker numbers surge to a record 2.4m as Eastern Europeans return to Britain

By Steve Doughty
Last updated at 7:44 AM on 19th October 2010
Comments 359

* Eastern European workers reaches record of 551,000
* 2.401 million non-UK nationals active in the economy

The number of foreigners working in Britain has hit an all-time high despite the fragile state of the recovery.

This summer, the total topped 2.4million for the first time after thousands arrived from abroad in the spring.

Some of them were Poles and other Eastern Europeans who began to return to the UK. The number of Eastern European workers also reached a record – of 551,000.

It means the workforce of foreigners has surged by more than a Â*million in only seven years.

Vital? Many businesses say they rely on foreign workers as it emerged the numbers involved in the British economy had hit an all-time high

By contrast the number of Britons in jobs fell by hundreds of thousands during the recession.

The growing total of foreign workers comes at a time of deepening concern over the five million British adults who do not work and the intensification of Government efforts to persuade many that jobs are preferable to a life of benefits dependency.

The rush to take jobs in Britain is also adding to immigration and concerns over population growth and overcrowding.

But some ministers, led by Business Secretary Vince Cable, are anxious to stave off the Coalition’s promised cap on immigration from outside the EU to maintain the flow of skilled and cheap, unskilled foreign workers that employers say they need.

The latest count of foreign citizens working in Britain was released alongside unemployment figures by the Office for National Statistics.

It showed there were 2.401million non-UK nationals active in the economy between April and June, up by 147,000 on the previous three months.

The previous peak came at the end of 2008, as the recession began to bite, when there were 2.377million foreign citizens working in Britain.

After that, Labour ministers maintained that numbers were falling because thousands of Eastern European migrant workers had gone home.

But by this spring they were returning to take jobs in Britain – a signal that work is widely available.

Eastern Europeans may be taking jobs that workers here are reluctant to do, possibly because unemployed Britons regard the jobs as either too low paid or too demanding.

The number of workers from Poland and other Eastern European countries in the EU rose by 54,000 over the three-month period to 551,000.

Only seven years ago, in the summer of 2003, before the admission of eight Eastern European countries to the EU, there were 1.39million foreign nationals in jobs in this country.

The new figures, drawn from the Labour Force Survey, showed there were 26.530million Britons in jobs, around 650,000 down from the peak in summer 2008.

Librarians at the House of Commons confirmed that the number of foreign workers is the highest since the count was first carried out in 1997, when it was 966,000.

Home Secretary Theresa May has pledged to set a cap on immigration from outside the EU with the aim of reducing net migration – the rate at which immigration exceeds emigration – to 1990s levels.

Sir Andrew Green, of the Migrationwatch think-tank, warned that a new wave of migrant workers would be damaging.

‘The risk is that we will get Â*economic growth without encouraging more employment among British workers,’ he said. ... -2-4m.html