5th Jun 2023

UK government under growing pressure to seal off labour market

UK home secretary John Reid is under growing pressure to restrict access for workers from Bulgaria and Romania, when the two countries join the EU next year.

When the EU enlarged last time in 2004, the UK together with Sweden and Ireland granted immediate and free access to workers from the new member state's workers.

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  • In total, 23,500 people were granted Bulgarian citizenship in the last five years (Photo: European Commission Audiovisual Library)

But the UK government hugely miscalculated the number of workers that took the opportunity to come and work in Britain. It had expected up to 13,000 workers a year to move to the UK, but 600,000 have come since 2004.

Now British media have revealed that the government privately estimates between 60,000 and 140,000 Romanians and Bulgarians will arrive in Britain in the first year after the next EU enlargement.

The figures prompted former Labour minister Frank Field to demand that the UK's borders should be closed to the new arrivals. He said current immigration has serious effects on housing, healthcare and "the very nature of our community," according to media reports.

Fuelling the discussion further, the Sunday Telegraph reported over the weekend that more than 20,000 people from countries such as Moldova and Macedonia have taken up Bulgarian citizenship in the past few years, and at least 55,000 more are on the waiting list.

"Most are motivated by the prospect of tapping into the EU job market", the paper stated.

But the Bulgarian government has hit back, denying they are giving away passports to tens of thousands of non-EU foreigners who will be able to work in Britain when the country joins the EU.

In total, 23,500 people have been granted Bulgarian citizenship in the last five years, deputy minister of Justice Ana Karaivanova confirmed.

Of these, 9,500 came from Macedonia and 8,000 from Moldova. The rest were from Russia, Israel, Ukraine, Serbia and Montenegro.

According to Ms Karaivanova, the screening procedure for granting citizenship remains thorough despite the increased number of applications.

She denied that the main motivation of the applicants was to be able to work in the EU countries.

"Many of them genuinely wish to settle in Bulgaria", she said, according to a press release from the Bulgaria in EU Press Center, - a body that works for the government on building a positive image of Bulgaria

Italy opens up labour market to eastern Europeans

While Italy has only now opened up its markets to workers from central and eastern European member states, the UK is experiencing its biggest immigration wave ever and has drawn up a blacklist of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals ahead of the two countries' probable EU accession next year.

London takes harder line on Bulgarian and Romanian workers

Britain has sent another signal suggesting a policy shift on labour market access to workers from the new EU member states, as a newspaper poll shows 77 percent of people approve of putting work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians.

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