Fears of Bulgarian migrants going to UK 'exaggerated'
With restrictions preventing Bulgarians and Romanians from working in the UK to expire at the end of the year, the debate about new migrants arriving in the country has already begun.
UK communities secretary Eric Pickles on Sunday (13 January) told the BBC that potential new arrivals will "cause problems" in the social housing market.
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According to national statistics, there were already some 57,000 Bulgarian and 79,000 Romanian residents in the UK in 2010.
Bulgaria was quick to respond.
Its ambassador to the UK dismissed the likelihood that masses of Bulgarians will start coming to the country in 2014.
"Any speculations about possible waves of Bulgarian migrants seem overly exaggerated for internal political purposes, which ultimately is totally unacceptable," Konstantin Dimitrov told Bulgaria’s Trud daily on Tuesday (15 January)
London put labour market restrictions on Bulgaria and Romania when they joined the EU in 2007.
Some of those restrictions include a so-called accession worker card that requires employers to apply for a work permit on the migrant's behalf. Stiff penalties are imposed on employers who hire the nationals without the cards.
There are six different types of permits depending on the type of work allocated with more relaxed criteria for high-skilled professionals.
Other restrictions are age-based. Bulgarians and Romanians who land a job in the UK's food manufacturing sector, for instance, must be between the ages of 18 and 30.
Students are also limited to working 20 hours a week.
In December this year, such restrictions expire.
Dimitrov noted that Bulgarian citizens currently seeking to legally exercise their professions in the UK rarely run into problems.
"It should not be expected that the lifting of the employment restrictions would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of Bulgarian migrants," he said.
The UK cannot, under the EU treaties, extend the restrictions, but some UK conservatives and euro-deputies say that full liberalisation would lead to a wave of arrivals.
Their concerns are based on the number of Poles who migrated to the country after Poland joined the EU in 2004. The numbers far exceeded initial estimates by the government at the time.
Meanwhile, figures from the Home Office also show that relatively few Bulgarians and Romanians have entered the UK work force.
Around 17,000 workers obtained seasonal agricultural employment in 2010 and less than 800 Bulgarians and around 1,800 Romanians received accession worker cards.
The UK's Migration Advisory Committee, a public body comprised of economists and migration experts, has also told the Home Office in a report issued in November 2011 that migrants do not have a significant impact on employment conditions for native UK workers.
The study instead notes that Bulgarians and Romanians may have increased the UK per capita GDP by an estimated 0.04 per cent between 2004 and 2009.
Most low-paid workers from Bulgaria also instead opt to work closer to home in either Spain or Greece, says the Paris-based eceonomic club, the OECD.