Destination Britain: Romanian communities transformed by money earned in the UK

The village of Racsa is a nine hour drive from the Romanian capital Bucharest. Credit: ITV News

It's a very strange experience to travel to north west Transylvania and have to remind yourself you're not in the UK, simply because almost every car you look at has an English number plate and the people you talk to are keen to trade stories about where they lived when they were there.

The village of Racsa, a nine hour drive from the Romanian capital Bucharest, is an unusual place. It's full of huge houses, paid for by money earned in the UK.

The streets are pretty quiet, apart from the English cars and then you realise why. It's because this place is missing an entire generation. There are young and old but few of working age.

They have all gone elsewhere to make their money - it's a village of 3,500 people with around a third not living there.

At the local school around 60% of the children are being cared for by their grandparents, their parents are dotted around England, Scotland and Wales. That in itself is unusual. Romanians don't usually go to the UK.

It's actually 11th on the list of where Romanians migrate to - around 90,000 officially there at the moment compared with almost two million in Italy and Spain.

Based on the wish to migrate towards friends and family, it's unlikely that ratio will change much when transitional controls limiting the numbers allowed in the UK are lifted on January 1.

When you talk to those returning home you realise why there is such a need to go abroad.

Andrei Pab, filling up his British car during a trip back for Christmas, told me that working as a supervisor in a glazing company in London he can earn in two days what would take a month to rack up in Romania.

As a result, he's left his home town to earn his fortune elsewhere - he will come home though, once he's made enough to create a comfortable life for his family.

On a farm where they had just slaughtered a pig for holiday season we found Maria Nsti, enjoying time with her family again after five years as a chambermaid in the UK - she and many other relatives took the chance to go when Romania joined the EU in 2007, leaving children to be cared for by grandparents.

She tells me that's why only those of working age leave and why it's work they seek not benefits.

Maria Nsti is adamant the members of her family who work abroad do not take any help from the state. Credit: ITV News

Others will go once restrictions on the numbers are lifted in January, but not just to the UK and not in the numbers some are predicting.

Around seven members of the family are still abroad, but again she's adamant they will come home and they aren't taking any state help.

The challenges of being in the UK without the appropriate paperwork were summed up when we met Gavrilla, a father of two who has returned to bring up his children.

He was working illegally and in the end it got too difficult because in order to do building work he needed the proper papers.

Those Emma Murphy met in Racsa wanted to work and earn in order to get home to Romania as soon as possible. Credit: ITV News

As he works on building his own home he questions the view that it's easy to work illegally but admits some do, as he did.

What was most striking talking to those who have spent time in the UK is that when you ask what they liked, where they saw, if they have any photos, there was just one answer - "We went there to work, we didn't have time to do anything else".

That seems a very far cry from the headlines warning of an influx of benefit cheats looking to find an easy life paid for by others.

Those we met in Racsa wanted just one thing, to work and earn in order to get home to Romania as soon as possible.