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2020.02.20 17:38

Trafficking of Lithuanians to Britain could increase after Brexit

Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2020.02.20 17:38

Britain’s move to introduce a point-based immigration system for EU citizens could lead to the trafficking of Lithuanian migrants, according to the head of Lituanian community in the UK.

“Human trafficking will grow in scale,” Dalia Asanavičiūtė, the president of United Kingdom's Lithuanian Community (JKLB), told LRT English.

Read more: Waiting for Brexit: Lithuanians in UK ‘sick and tired’ of uncertainty

“Illegal businesses” offering passage to the UK were prevalent among Lithuanians before joining the EU in 2004, she said, and “there is a fear that the [practice] will return”.

The UK government said on Wednesday it would “reassert the control of borders” with a new immigration policy labelled as “xenophobic” by Britain's Liberal Democrats and “hostile” by Labour, according to the BBC.

The new point-based system would favour those with high-school diplomas and with a higher-income job. The minimum salary threshold will be set at 25,600 British pounds (around 31,600 euros), and the EU students will also require visas.

The UK government estimates that “70 percent of the EU workforce” would not meet the immigration criteria, which will end up reducing the overall immigration, according to British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Lithuanians will no longer be able to join their friends and relatives without finding a job first, said Asanavičiūtė, adding a large part of the 203,000-strong Lithuanian diaspora tend to work in unskilled professions.

It also depends on what the UK government will designate as skilled labour, she said.

According to Asanavičiūtė, there are jobs that require higher education or specialised training, such as junior researchers or bus drivers, but do not offer a high salary.

“Restrictions will definitely come in place,” she said, and only their form could differ by the time negotiations with the EU conclude.

There are some 203,000 Lithuanians residing in the UK, according to the Lithuanian Migration Department figures from November 2019.

The new laws would not apply to those who have settled or pre-settled status, according to Asanavičiūtė, and “nothing should change for us even in 2021”.

Prevention against human trafficking will be important, said Asanavičiūtė, and “the police attaché arrrived at the right time because there might more work [related to trafficking] after Brexit”.

Read more: #Voices – Brexit: Brits in Lithuania feel like ‘carpet is pulled under their feet’