If you were to take a look at a few headlines over the past weeks you’d be forgiven for thinking January 1st won’t just usher in a new year but a mass movement of Romanians and Bulgarians to the UK eager for a cushy life on benefits thanks to the British tax payer.
As 2014 dawns, restrictions on the number of people from these countries allowed to work in the UK will be lifted. The “A2” nations as they’re known will have the same rights as any other EU citizen.
So what is it all about? Well the detail dates back to 2007 when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU gaining the right to free movement.
The UK, along with Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain and the Netherlands placed restrictions on how many could enter their countries and on the kind of jobs they could take. Those restrictions can only stay in place for seven years, so fall away as midnight chimes.
The UK Government won’t say how many they think will take advantage of the new freedoms but David Cameron has been eager to discuss the limiting of benefits, healthcare and housing available to them.
Of course this is partly the result of the numbers of Polish who moved to UK when that country gained rights in 2004. Then the UK, Ireland and Sweden failed to put any limits on and official figures showed over 400,000 made the move though the true figure was thought to be much higher. (Source: Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs and Communities and Local Government, Accession Monitoring Report: A8 Countries, May 2004-June 2007, 21 August 2007, accessed 26 August 2007)
But take a close look at the situation now for the Romanians and Bulgarians and things are quite different. Whereas in 2004 Poland had just joined, Bulgaria and Romania have been member states since 2007. Almost 100,000 have already taken the chance to work in the UK. Some have stayed, others have already returned home. (Source: ONS)
I recently spent a week in Romania and the view there seems to be that those who wanted to go have already gone. The others who may decide to move have a choice of eight different countries not just three.
And when you look at the figures, the UK is actually only 11th on the list of where Romanians tend to move – Italy and Spain at the top, the language similarities over-riding the economic problems, followed closely by Germany, Hungary and even the USA. (Source: IOM 2011)
Couple that with the fact the combined population of both countries is 29 million compared to 39 million in Poland and it’s fair to think there may be some clear differences in the way transition evolves. There are 6.5 million Romanians between 20 and 39 years of age and 0.35 million Bulgarians. That’s the group which tends to make the shift but 46% of them have already gone. How likely is it the majority of those left would follow suit enough to disrupt the workings of British society?
And there is another factor worth bearing in mind, GDP in Romania and Bulgaria is rising. Unemployment in the former is less than the UK. There’s a long way for both to go but they are countries moving forward.
Of course the chance to earn in the UK is far greater but that is perhaps the important word – WORK. Romanians don’t even come in the top 20 of foreign nationals claiming benefits in the UK. They don’t want to because there is one reason for them to leave their children and their families behind and that is to earn as much money in as short a time as possible and then return to a more comfortable life in their own country. (Source: Government statistics)
So is there a clamor for the door and a ticket to the UK? Not according to one recruitment consultant I spoke to – “the UK’s not paradise,” he told me, “at the moment I’m actually having to advertise to try and find people to go there".