Bulgaria, Romania, concerns about immigration and attitudes to EU membership

The debate over Bulgarian and Romanian migration shows that concerns about immigration are now inevitably intertwined with attitudes to EU membership.

Last week Boris Johnson weighed into growing media panic about migration from Romania and Bulgaria at the end of 2013, when transitional controls on access to the British labour market are lifted.

This has followed reports the UK government plans an advertising campaign to deter would-be migrants. The arrival of Romanians and Bulgarians promises to be the migration story of 2013.

A narrative has emerged that the previous government disastrously under-estimated the numbers of Poles and other eastern Europeans who would arrive in the UK after the access of the ten new member states in 2004. This mistake resulted in the UK deciding to open its labour market to nationals of these countries, with catastrophic consequences for the less well-off in the UK.

This is a narrative that is being reinforced by both Labour (in its continued apologies for decisions made in 2004), and by the Conservatives, including those who want the UK’s exit from the EU.

But this narrative is drowning out important lessons.

Most academics agree you cannot predict broad migratory trends. Nevertheless, the previous government did commission research from the economist Christian Dustmann, which predicted 5,000-13,000 nationals from the EU’s new member states would arrive per year after EU enlargement. (About 540,000 new accession state nationals were in the UK by 2008).

This poor quality research failed to account for UK labour market conditions, the ‘pull’ factors. Although ministers never endorsed its findings, the then government did not listen to other advice.

Lesson one should be decisions about migration policy should be informed by the best evidence and government departments should be knowledgeable enough to reject weak research.

Data from the Office for National Statistics now show an estimated 94,000 persons born in Romania and 47,000 born in Bulgaria at the end of 2011. Their numbers have increased in the last ten years: Census 2001 showed a population of just over 7,000 people born in Romania and 5,000 born in Bulgaria.

Nationals from both countries are allowed to travel freely to the UK and also to work as working students, as self-employed or in various schemes providing workers for the farming and food processing sectors.

In truth, it is already easy for Romanians and Bulgarians to come to the UK to work, legally or illegally, a fact born out in employment statistics, which showed nearly 84 cent of the UK’s Bulgarian born population in work at the end of 2012. Removing the remaining labour market restrictions at the end of 2013 is unlikely to have a large effect on migration from these two countries.

If the government really wanted to limit migration from Romania and Bulgaria it could do more to train and encourage UK nationals to work in the construction sector. The industry is a major source of employment for many Romanians and Bulgarians, who are filling the large number of vacancies in this sector. This is another lesson to which the present government has not heard.

A number of local authorities have also started to voice concerns Romanian and Bulgarian migration will put pressure on social housing and other public services. Although immigration may well put pressure on school places, particularly in London, concerns about social housing pressures and benefit tourism do not always stand up to scrutiny.

Anyone applying for social housing needs to show a local connection and many housing and benefit applications from EU nationals are rejected. Moreover, unemployed EU nationals without permanent residency lose their right to remain in the UK as ‘EEA workers’. Yet entitlements to social housing and other benefits are a little understood area, sometimes by the very local authorities that allocate housing.

Some local authority disquiet – explicit or implicit – about Romanian migration has focused on the Roma community, whose visibility affords them much attention. This is a migrant group who have been often been challenging to integrate and small numbers of them have been convicted of criminal offences.

Yet many Roma are working legally and their children are attending school, an experience denied to them in Romania. The latter is partly due to the hard work of Gypsy and Traveller Education teams, small units based in local authorities, whose funding is now being cut.

A third lesson is local authorities need to be empowered to deal with EU migration, with guidance on issues such as housing entitlements and with the necessary funding to support integration.

It should be remembered this government abolished the Migration Impacts Fund, a grant of £50 million paid for out of visa fees (not by the UK taxpayer), which channelled money to local authorities to pay for additional local costs incurred as a result of immigration.

And finally, while migration flows from Romania and Bulgaria may not be as big as predicted, perhaps a final lesson is we need to listen to public opinion. Public concerns about immigration are real and serious, but in most cases they stem from concerns about jobs, fairness and the government’s ability to control immigration flows.

But public attitudes are complex and there is scope for a more positive debate. Moving to such a position, however, will require that we acknowledge concerns about immigration are now inevitably intertwined with attitudes to EU membership.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

19 Responses to “Bulgaria, Romania, concerns about immigration and attitudes to EU membership”

  1. David James Lownton

    The left should be the most anti immigration because it is the working class who suffer. Mass immigration causes high unemployment, unaffordable housing, pressure on the NHS and school places. WE need to stop this now

    Sign this petition to restrict Bulgarian and Romanians from entering the UK:


  2. Old Albion

    The left call themselves ‘champions of the working class’ man, then support every issue/policy or EU diktat that adversly affects the working man in the (dis)UK. Chasing their Utopian dream (nightmare for others) of one Socialist Republic throughout Europe.

    It should be funny but it ain’t.

  3. LabanTall

    “The (contruction) industry is a major source of employment for many Romanians and
    Bulgarians, who are filling the large number of vacancies in this

    That’s great news for the millions of unemployed in the UK. The strange thing is that none of these construction jobs seem to exist at the local job centre – only minimum-wage zero hour contract work here and there – mostly in supermarkets and food processing plants.

    Would you mind awfully putting up a link to wherever these large numbers of jobs are being advertised?

  4. Séamus

    So is the working class only British? Do our fellow EU citizens not create wealth and pay taxes?

  5. Newsbot9

    Hatred against travelling populations is a major warning sigh about the rise of violent elements among the right, sadly.

  6. Newsbot9

    The causes are the Tories and the lack of house building. But lashing out at the other is easier.

  7. Newsbot9

    Who are you talking about exactly, given Labour are centralists…

  8. Newsbot9

    They’re plummeting now. They DID exist. But not any more, the Tories have managed to crush the building sector, expect to see the workers in them leave the UK. Goal won! Shame about our economy.

    (also, construction frequently requires some basic specific qualifications, given it’s not safe untrained! So of course they won’t go to the jobcenters…)

  9. thorn

    “one Socialist Republic throughout Europe”
    You have no idea how socialist the UK is in its current incarnation. In a lot of aspects many former communist countries would wonder where the communism/socialism was tryed and implemented – in Eastern or Western EUROPE. Apparently the ONLY difference between the socialist and capitalist systems is that the former lacks the upper crust of 5-10-15% super/mega rich and not so megarich. They are the only people afraid of loosing big time and they are the same inducing hatred and manipulating the public opinion toward their goals.

  10. thorn

    Instead of signing petitions against the locals (EU citizens) better look where all manufacturing, engineering and service jobs are going (Asia), and ask the Upper (leading) crust WHY and until when they will stimulate the Asian region instead of implementing policies for keeping its own population busy producing goods and services.
    The same situation is all over Europe and US.
    YOU CAN’T KEEP exporting jobs forever, because the buildings built by the chaps in question will stay empty.

    AND also you can add to the petition that EU is a two way street. And think about the tens of thousands brits already in these countries and abroad – how will they answer questions about your petition for awkward policies based on nonsense fears promoted by UKIP and BNP.

  11. thorn

    A petition is full of lies, sorry.

    “In 2014 EU restrictions are set be removed, allowing nationals of Bulgaria and Romania ‘free movement’ to the UK.” – There are no restrictions for movement since 2007.

    “The move is similar to the one that granted access to around 600,000 Polish immigrants to enter Britain over recent years.” – Recent years are since 2004, when economy was booming, majority of these people went back to Poland, i.e. they did not settle here.

    “Despite Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU in 2005, restrictions were put on the number who could move to Britain. However, those restrictions will be abolished in 2014.”
    – Both countrues entered EU 2007 and this gave them the right for free movement in the entire EU, not only to great britain. There is no any restricions on the movement or settling in any EU member state.

    “Once the restrictions are lifted all new comers will entitled to claim benefits, housing, child, job seekers etc.”
    – Lifting the restrictions for employment means that people can apply for full time permanent jobs without explicit permition from Home Office. The entitlemnt for claiming benefits will be (hopefully) aligned with the rest EU citizens, which are however much more restrictive to EU than for UK citizens, so no worries.

    “The impact will also put pressure on housing, infrastructure, schools, and heath care. All at a time the government are cutting pensions, jobs, public services and the armed forces.”
    – Given the above – no any impact is expected at all.The above restriction are lifted for employment access to whole of EU, not UK only.

    “I request the government suspends the easing on these restrictions for another 5 years.”

    – UK goverment can not impose any further restrictions according the EU law. The restrictions have been applied in the previous year.

    “The government requests to renegotiate the immigration laws within the EU.”

    – Cherry picking again. 🙂 I don’t think so, unless you insist the UK to be again laughing stock as it was during the recent PM’s statements in Davos.

  12. Philip Duval

    I agree David Lownton, it has always mystified me why the left doesn’t understand the effect mass immigration has on working conditions at the lower end. If the middle class liberals had to compete with migrant labour in their professions, I’m sure we would see radically different opinions.

    Follow the money: do you ever hear the CBI or the Institute of Directors complaining about immigration? No.

    I have to say my views on immigration have changed significantly over the last few years and I am appalled at the propensity for ‘liberals’ to shout down any opponent of mass immigration as ‘racist’. I have travelled all over the world and this country is by far one of the most tolerant and welcoming. But we are putting that at risk with this blind adherence to WTO rules and globalisation. It is not the job of the people of this country to pick up the pieces of failed economic policy in Eastern Europe and allowing these largely Thatcherite governments to off-load their unemployed to us does the people of those nations no good whatsoever.

    As such Thorn is right to finger globalisation as the culprit for lost jobs but sadly has to conflate opposition to this race to the bottom with support for the BNP / UKIP.

    ”AND also you can add to the petition that EU is a two way street. And think about the tens of thousands brits already in these countries and abroad – how will they answer questions about your petition for awkward policies based on nonsense fears promoted by UKIP and BNP.”

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, I’m afraid. British people have no more right to expect to work abroad than anyone else and I would ask what does he think about, for example, Brazil’s stringent controls on workers from Europe? It sounds to me like a sensible policy to build up the capacity of its own workforce.

    Who exactly has benefited most from globalisation? If the answer is ‘us, because we can buy cheap goods from Asia’, I would reply that you don’t have much solidarity with the factory workers who have to produce those goods in appalling conditions. Instead I would posit that globalisation has really only benefited the super-rich, who are inimically opposed to our values and whose crisis – caused by the free movement of their money – we are forced to pay for.

  13. Philip Duval

    This is extremely reductionist. He’s not lashing out anyone. Globalisation is a race to the bottom.

  14. Philip Duval

    Why do you persist in conflating opposition to mass immigration with hatred?

    I lived briefly in Poland. There are very very few protections for the unemployed there and public services are horrendous. The answer given to those who don’t like it is: why don’t you go to England?

    It is not the job of this nation to pick up the pieces of failed Thatcherite economics elsewhere.

  15. Newsbot9

    Because they come together. And the reverse applies these days, given out failing economy.

  16. Newsbot9

    You’re confusing seeing a foreigner with a race to the bottom again. The reduction is what you’re practising on our economy.

  17. nf

    I am eagerly expecting the time when somebody will take Nigel Farage to court for libel and deception. Just a quick look at the HO stats:

    Table ee.01.q: Applications from Bulgarian and Romanian nationals for permission to work in the UK by date of application 2012 Q3

    Accession worker card applications approved 167
    Registration certificate applications approved 486

    AND for OUTSIDE EEA: Immigration Statistics – July to September 2012
    Out of Country visas issued Total :145,604
    In-country grants of extensions Total:142,443

    Not even bothered to look at Asylum stats which have dedicated not 1, not 2, not even 3 but 5 volumes.

    The irony is that this will make him even more popular.

  18. charlesdanube

    It’s nice to see the way EU immigration Process

  19. therealthreat

    you should be much more worried about people from musulman states who soon will take the power in england and in europe and will exterminate us all

Leave a Reply