THE spectre of £1-an-hour foreign workers is coming to haunt recession-hit Britain.
That is the amount thousands of migrants queueing up to enter the country illegally are prepared to work for rather than having to return home.
Migrants living in camps at France’s Channel ports told the Sunday Express they were determined to get to Britain and would not be dissuaded, however low the wages.
The revelation comes as the European Commission launches a new agency which could see thousands of asylum seekers from Africa transferred directly to the UK.
Brussels wants Britain to “share the burden” of dealing with 70,000 asylum seekers who cross the Mediterranean from Africa each year to countries such as Italy and Malta.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will today announce plans to “raise the bar” for foreign workers seeking permits in a bid to quell a public backlash over the impact of immigration during the recession. But critics last night said the developments made a mockery of Labour’s claims to be getting to grips with immigration and asylum.
Last year the number of work permits handed out hit an all-time high of 151,000. Foreign workers now hold 3.8 million jobs in Britain, equivalent to 13 per cent of the total and almost double the number a decade ago.
In France, vast crowds living in makeshift camps in Channel ports made clear their determination to get to Britain. Many are seeking work in the black economy, where wages as low as £2 an hour are already undercutting British workers on the national minimum wage of £5.73.
“Forget £2–most of us would certainly work for a £1 an hour. We’d work for anything,” said Khalid, a 24-year-old from Iraq.
“We know that Britain offers free accommodation and food, but we also want to work. We are certain we’ll get to Britain. It’s easy. All we have to do after that is start earning.”
Khalid, who would not reveal his surname, was with a group of friends living in a tent on wasteland opposite the port of Le Havre.
Each night they play a game of cat-and-mouse with police and security guards as they try to smuggle themselves on to ferries to Portsmouth.
If they fail, they simply wait for their next chance. The scene is replicated in up to half-a-dozen ports, with 2,000 migrants sleeping rough in the Calais region alone. Another migrant calling himself Iqbar and claiming he was 19 and from Iraq said: “We just want to get started. We have great respect for the English, but believe that in the end it is the people who are prepared to work the hardest who should get the jobs. If the British can’t compete with £1 an hour then that’s their problem.”
Few of the dozens of migrants spoken to by the Sunday Express have passports. While many will claim asylum when they get to Britain, others will simply disappear into the black economy.
All said £1-an-hour rates would not put them off working, as long as they could stay in Britain.
“We’ve all suffered persecution, so a low-paid job doesn’t bother us,” said Omhar, who said he was a 20-year-old Iranian. “Once we are established we will bring our families over. We know everybody is welcome and it’s easy to get over if you keep trying.”
The European Commission has drawn up plans to create a European Asylum Support Office to “harmonise” asylum laws across the EU. Home Affairs Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the agency, to be set up next year, would also arrange “intra-community transfers”, shifting asylum seekers from hotspots like Italy to countries like the UK.
Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said it was wrong for Brussels to dictate how many asylum seekers we should take.
“It is important that the Government keep control over who we let in as refugees. This is a matter that must stay under the control of our Government and not be decided in Brussels.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency insisted Britain would not agree to any EU proposals that would weaken our asylum controls.