28th Oct 2016

British migration fears overblown, says report

  • Migrants from Romania and Bulgaria move abroad to work, not to stay unemployed (Photo: afagen)

Fears of massive migration and exploitation of the British welfare system are overblown, says a report published on Friday (5 April) by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

"Survey evidence suggests that the UK is not a strongly favoured location for those interested in migrating. There is little firm evidence to suggest that flows will therefore increase substantially once transitional controls are lifted," says the report.

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The study was commissioned by the UK government amid heated tabloid debate in Britain about whether the lifting of labour restrictions at the end of this year will lead to many Romanians and Bulgarians travelling to the UK,

Based on an analysis of surveys, statistics and academic papers in Britain, Bulgaria and Romania, the report lists Spain and Italy as the preferred destinations for migrants from the two Balkan countries.

Numbers in Britain, according to the Labour Force Survey, are "relatively low." Some 26,000 Bulgarians and 80,000 Romanians are currently living in Britain.

The report stresses that the main motivation for people from Romania and Bulgaria to move abroad is to work, not to claim welfare benefits.

As elsewhere in the EU, Romanians and Bulgarians in Britain are "overwhelmingly young, aged under 35", without children and work in jobs often below their academic or professional qualifications, in hotels, restaurants, cleaning services and construction.

"In relation to health services, future migration from Bulgaria and Romania is unlikely to have a significant impact. Economic migrants, in particular, are generally young and healthy and, as such, do not make major demands on health services," the report reads, in reference to government plans to limit the access of migrants to British health care.

"One consideration is whether much migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK has already happened, but is confined to ... 'self employment' and employment in the grey economy. It is possible that once restrictions are lifted, actual numbers of [Romanian and Bulgarian] citizens working in the UK may not increase substantially."

The report also lists four previous 'waves' of migration from these two countries to other EU states: the break-up of the Eastern Block in 1989 and subsequent migration between 1990-1995, the collapse of the Bulgarian economy in 1996, lifting visa restrictions for Bulgaria and Romania in 2001 and their EU membership in 2007.

None of these events resulted in massive migration to the UK.

As for Roma migration, the report notes that it is "mostly temporary and circular, with two thirds of Roma returning to Bulgaria within less than six months."

The report also warns against any numerical estimates of people arriving from these two countries once labour market restrictions are lifted next year.

The authors say there is a lack of accurate data on current migration for both permanent residents and temporary workers. The report cites the "unpredictability of migration" given changing political and economic factors in Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Europe in general.

"Consequently, any numerical estimates of potential migration to the UK are likely to be inaccurate and misleading," they conclude. Anti-migration groups have predicted about 50,000 new arrivals once restrictions are lifted, while the Communities Secretary estimated 13,000.

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