Asylum Applications Down 41%

The number of asylum seekers to the UK has dropped since last year due to governmental reforms, according to David Blunkett, the UK's Home Office Secretary. Asylum seekers, once a contentious issue in British politics, now seem to be overshadowed by the uncertainty of migration from new members of the European Union. Many in Britain worry that citizens from the former Soviet countries will flood the country to take advantage of health benefits and the welfare system. Blunkett has proposed a scheme in which new entrants must register and will only be eligible for benefits when they prove that they are working and paying into the UK's National Insurance. No doubt there is need for new workers: current estimates suggest there are as many as half a million vacancies in the economy in jobs as diverse as bricklayers and plumbers to pediatricians and dentists. While Blunkett claims that there is no wiggle-room in his plan, he also states that if migrants lose their job they will also lose any work-related support. – YaleGlobal

Asylum Applications Down 41%

Matthew Tempest
Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Asylum applications fell 41% last year, the government revealed today, as David Blunkett castigated the media for their coverage of yesterday's announcement on EU migrants.

Reacting angrily to today's headlines on the government's plans for a work register and denial of benefits to those people from the 10 accession countries, the home secretary said some of the media "should know a lot better" on the issues surrounding immigration.

The home secretary denounced ignorance in the press, saying his plans had been deliberately misrepresented: "I'm sad that the people who write it and who know better are prepared to mislead people who don't know, because they are not familiar with the rules."

According to Home Office figures released today, asylum applications fell 41% last year to 49,370, excluding dependants, compared with the previous 12 months.

Including dependants, the figure was 61,050 for the year, compared with 103,080 in 2002.

In the final three months of 2003, there were 10,830 new asylum seekers, down 52% on the same period in 2002, and down 9% on the three months from July to September last year.

Commenting on the figures - unrelated to yesterday's statement on EU migration - Mr Blunkett said: "These figures show the very significant progress that has been made in dramatically reducing the number of asylum seekers entering the UK last year as a result of the tough reforms we have put in place."

But speaking on the reaction to his workers' register scheme on the BBC this morning, Mr Blunkett went on the offensive. Criticising newspaper coverage this morning of his announcement, Mr Blunkett told the Today programme: "We will not be, in the words used this morning, swamped. Nor on the other hand will we be running scared.

"Another newspaper who should know a lot better is pretending that we have somehow run away from the central issues, whereas actually a month ago they were predicting that I would block workers coming, full-stop."

He was also asked about newspaper headlines suggesting that Britain could experience a major influx of "health tourists" coming here to make use of the NHS.

He said: "I'm sad that the people who write it and who know better are prepared to mislead people who don't know, because they are not familiar with the rules.

"If we go anywhere else in Europe and we seek medical treatment we use an E111 [form], that means there is a reciprocal arrangement and our country pays if we get treatment, or we get insured. That is exactly what will happen with people coming to our country."

Mr Blunkett declined to be drawn on how many migrants he expects to come to Britain from the accession countries.

He was asked about Home Office-funded research which suggested that the figure could be around 13,000.

Mr Blunkett said: "We think it is an interesting figure, but I'm not going to be pinned down to it or any other figure."

He added: "I know that with half a million vacancies in our economy for jobs at the moment, we have a situation where we want people to come as plumbers, as plasterers, as bricklayers, or as paediatricians, or as dentists."

Mr Blunkett said he hoped that those who have been working illegally would now register.

He said: "I hope that some who are in the clandestine economy will now register because we want them to be open, paying taxes, paying national insurance."

Asked whether such people could register without any penalty for past illegal working, Mr Blunkett said: "Yes they can, from the accession countries, because it is sensible to have them upfront, honestly working."

Mr Blunkett was asked what would be the test, in a year's time, of whether the registration scheme was working.

"The real question for us is: do they work legally, openly, do they earn entitlement through work - ie if they are in a job do they pay tax and national insurance, or do we have them in the sub-economy?

"I want these people inside the economy, paying towards the economy, paying their own way, and of course - and this is where the crunch is - earning entitlement to benefit. And if you earn entitlement to benefit, then you should receive it."

Rejecting criticism that there was wiggle-room in the plan, he added: "It's dead simple. If you are not working, then you cannot draw benefit in this country, not just for the next two years, but - if we renew it - for the whole seven-year transition period. But if you are working, you are entitled to work-related entitlements.

"You work, you get the entitlement; you don't work, you sustain yourself as a visitor in other ways, and if you become destitute you go back to your own country.

"If they lose their job and they do not find another one, then they are not entitled to any of the work-related support that we described yesterday, and they return home."

Mr Blunkett was also asked whether he favoured Tony Blair's proposals for random drug testing in schools.

He said: "I'm in favour of heads having the power to do so if they believe that there is a problem that has arisen that they want to stamp down on."

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