UK vows to control immigration as Bulgaria, Romania curbs end

02.01.14 @ 09:29

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The UK has vowed to control immigration, as restrictions on the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania are lifted throughout the whole of the EU.

  • Cameron: 'We’ve already capped welfare and cut immigration and this year we’ll carry on' (Photo: Mrs. Knook)

“We’ve already capped welfare and cut immigration and this year we’ll carry on, building an economy for people who work hard and play by the rules,” UK Prime Minister David Cameron said in his new year speech on Wednesday (1 January).

Cameron did not single out Romania and Bulgaria, but their new-found freedom has generated heated debate in the UK in recent months, as some politicians and media stoked fears of large arrivals and so-called benefit tourism.

With the seven-year transitional labour restrictions lifted, Bulgarians and Romanians will no longer have to apply for special work permits for some job categories in the UK.

But Cameron has imposed restrictions on welfare access for new arrivals in what is seen as a broader effort to win back voters from the anti-immigrant political party Ukip.

Meanwhile, authorities in both Sofia and Bucharest say the UK's fear of a large number of arrivals is unfounded. People who wanted to leave and work in the UK have already done so, they say.

British media and politicians greeted the first arrivals of Romanians and Bulgarians at London’s Luton airport on Wednesday.

Most were returning to jobs they already had in the UK, reports The Guardian.

The EU, for its part, says some 3 million Romania and Bulgarians already work and live other member states.

“It is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers,” said EU commissioner for employment Laszlo Andor in a statement.

The commissioner pointed out migrants contribute more to a country’s tax base than they take out, but are often used as “easy targets” by politicians who speak of welfare abuse or of new arrivals taking jobs from locals.

Most job migrants, Andor noted, are young people who fill labour and skill shortages in the host country.

Member states can also tap into the €10 billion European Social Fund (ESF) to shore up local housing, education, and social services if they come under strain from new arrivals.

“From 1 January 2014, each member state should spend at least 20 percent of ESF funds on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty,” the commissioner said.

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