Migrants hold fifth of low-skilled UK jobs says ONS

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs correspondent

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Shoppers in Oxford Street
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The government claims its policies will have an impact on immigration

The number of low-skilled workers born outside the UK more than doubled between 2002 and 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The figures show that almost 20% of low-skilled jobs are held by workers born abroad, up from 9% in 2002.

Workers coming to the UK from eastern or central European countries were the biggest single factor in the rise.

Separate ONS figures also show that net migration has increased despite government plans to bring it down.

The ONS figures on low-skilled workers underline long-term trends already identified through other data.

According to the figures, there were 666,000 low-skilled foreign-born people working in the British economy during the first quarter of 2011 - more than double the 298,000 workers who were in the UK at the start of 2002.

Over the same period, there was very little change in the number of low-skilled jobs in the British economy. But the figures show the number of British workers in these posts fell from just over 3m to 2.56m.

Most of the additional 367,000 foreign-born workers in low-skilled jobs came from the "A8" countries which joined the European Union in 2004.

In 2002 there were approximately 4,000 workers from the A8 nations in low-skilled jobs in the British economy. As of this year, there were 235,000.

Migration bars

The UK was one of the few EU members which did not temporarily bar workers from eastern and central Europe.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "These statistics show that immigration was out of control thanks to the old system — that is why we have already introduced radical changes to drive the numbers down.

"We accept that employers need to attract the brightest talent from across the world to fill jobs gaps but this should never be at the expense of UK workers."

The coalition government has continued the last Labour government's ban on low-skilled workers from outside Europe, but has also introduced a migration cap as part of a pledge to bring net migration down to "tens of thousands" by the end of the Parliament.

But separate figures also published on Thursday show that net migration rose to 242,000 in the year ending September 2010, meaning more people were coming to live in the UK than leaving. The total, the largest for five years, was driven by a fall in emigration, said the statistics body.

Oxford University's Migration Observatory urged ministers in a new paper to stop focusing so much on net migration figures.

Dr Martin Ruhs, director of the team, said the government's approach risked ignoring information that was vital to understanding immigration's wider effects on the UK.

"There are some very basic problems with focusing so closely on long-term net migration data," said Dr Ruhs.

"For one thing, reducing long-term net migration doesn't automatically mean that you are also reducing the growth in the country's total migrant population.

"It is perfectly possible that a decline in long-term migration could be accompanied by an increase in short-term migration, which may lead to flat, or even faster, growth in the migrant population."

And Sir Andrew Green, chairman of pressure group Migration Watch UK, said the latest figures were a shock.

"These figures show just what an enormous task the coalition government has inherited as a result of Labour's mass immigration policy," he said.

"Firm measures are now absolutely essential. The impact on British-born workers is a particular concern that has been brushed under the carpet for too long."