Welcome packs to ease problems for migrants

MIGRANT workers, who have become part of the bedrock of Huntingdonshire s expanding economy, will receive welcome packs to help them integrate into the community. There are an estimated 4,000 migrant workers in the district on the basis of addresses given

MIGRANT workers, who have become part of the bedrock of Huntingdonshire's expanding economy, will receive welcome packs to help them integrate into the community.

There are an estimated 4,000 migrant workers in the district on the basis of addresses given by people applying for National Insurance numbers.

There are fewer on the basis of people registering with the Government to work legally.

The reason for the discrepancy is largely that some NI applicants move away from the district after making their applications, Huntingdonshire District Council believes.

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HDC is concerned that migrants face particular problems, underpinned by language and housing, that prevent their inclusion in the wider community.

Next week, councillors will consider setting up a multi-agency task group - to include councils, police, health authorities and charities - to improve access to public services, reduce exploitation of migrant workers and help them integrate.

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They will also consider providing a welcome pack setting out rights and obligations.

The 500 NI registrations from the district in the previous two years climbed 40 per cent in 2004/05 and had doubled by the following year. In 2006/07, some 1,350 applications were made by non-UK nationals - well over half of them by Poles.

HDC figures show that, of the 4,120 people who applied from Huntingdonshire between 2002 and March 2007, 1,340 were from Poland.

The next largest national group was 240 from the Philippines, but most were here before EU enlargement. There were also 230 applications from Lithuanians, 180 from South Africans, 170 from the USA, 150 from India and 110 from Latvia.

HDC officials stress the contribution economic migrants make to the district's economy.

The influx of skilled migrants has persuaded more than one company to stay in the area when they faced having to move to find workers.

The employment rate in Huntingdonshire is so high that virtually anyone who really wants to work can find a job locally.

"It is widely recognised that the migrant population is vulnerable to social exclusion, and there are many reports of exploitation and isolation," HDC's community manager, Dan Smith, warned councillors.

"Migrants are perceived historically to work in horticulture, agriculture, food packing and processing, but they also work in many other sectors, including administration, business and management, hospitality and catering, health, education and manufacturing.

"Many migrant workers are professionals and have skills that are needed. Most migrant workers are in Britain legally and with the legal right to work."

However he added that many could not use those skills because of restrictions on the work they are allowed to do or because of language difficulties.

Mr Smith said many migrants are also exploited by employment agencies and gangmasters, who overcharge for often substandard accommodation, transport and administration and fail to honour commitments to training, holiday and sickness entitlements and statutory wage rates.

Migrants have inadequate information on their rights, entitlements and obligations and are often treated unfairly as a result.

He said many migrants lived in tied housing for which they paid more than they would have to if they were in the commercial private rented sector.

There are currently 10 houses licensed as in multiple occupation in Huntingdonshire and at least 50 more that do not fall into the mandatory licensing category.

The overwhelming majority are believed to be occupied exclusively by migrant workers.

"The arrival of significant numbers of foreign language-speaking migrant workers in Huntingdonshire's market towns can be a source of tension and conflict with the host community.

"Other practical barriers to interaction between migrants and existing residents stem from the separation that comes from busy and separate working and social lives.

"Tensions between new and settled communities are often caused by myth and misinformation circulating and gaining currency."

It is such issues that the task group will be asked to help resolve.

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