Romania and Bulgaria total drops

Updated: 

UK exit from EU 'would net £1.3bn'

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed in the UK appears to have dropped despite access restrictions to the labour market for citizens of the two countries being lifted at the turn of the year.

A total of 140,000 citizens from the eastern European countries were employed in the UK between January and March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, a drop of 4,000 when compared with the 144,000 employed in the last three months of 2013.

Transitional controls were lifted for citizens of Romania and Bulgaria - known as the A2 countries - on January 1, prompting warnings of a looming surge of immigration from the two European Union (EU) nations.

But while the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians employed in the UK has risen 25% year-on-year, the predicted increase at the turn of the year appears not to have transpired.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "These figures are unsurprising. The Committee viewed for itself how the supposed flood of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria was little more than a trickle. It would appear now that many may have actually left the UK."

He added: "By not understanding the likely levels of immigration we risk increasing the poisonous rhetoric and prejudice which leads to the destruction of all rational debate. We must not have an immigration arms race."

Between the final quarter of last year and first three months of this year, the number of employed citizens from the so-called A8 countries, which includes Poland, rose by 74,000 to 802,000.

Similarly, the number of Indians employed in the UK rose by 16,000 to 443,000 and the number of Australians and New Zealanders increased by 3,000 to 132,000.

A range of polarised reports emerged in the run-up to the lifting of controls, including a predicted surge in pickpocketing, mugging, beggars on the streets and rioting.

Other reports suggested citizens from the two eastern European countries would attempt to sell their babies when they arrived in Britain.

Claims of fully-booked flights and coaches from Bucharest and Sofia at the turn of the year were incorrect and retracted.

But migration experts urged caution when approaching today's figures as it is "too early" to know the long-term implications of lifting the restrictions.

Dr Carlos Vargas-Silva, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said:
"The changes that we see in today's data cannot really be seen as a result of the end of controls on the employment opportunities of A2 migrants.

"It is important that we see this data for what it is - an important first step in understanding how A2 migration is changing - but until we have complete data for 2014 it is impossible to achieve any definite conclusions about the impact of the end of restrictions."

Against a backdrop of growing concerns of an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, and a surge in popularity for the UK Independence Party (Ukip), Prime Minister David Cameron rushed through new measures at the end of last year to ensure EU migrants will be unable to claim out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the UK.

In addition, those found begging or sleeping rough could be deported and barred from re-entry for 12 months unless they can show they have a proper reason to be in the UK, such as holding a job.

Other proposals previously announced in the Government's Immigration Bill will see migrant access to the NHS restricted, while landlords, employers, bankers and DVLA staff will be expected to take part in checks for illegal immigrants under tough reforms.

An extension of the NHS charging regime was announced, which will see overseas visitors and migrants charged for accident and emergency treatment in England.

Migrants will also have to pay for primary care services such as minor surgery carried out by GPs, while prescription charges will be extended.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which predicted about 250,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would arrive in the first five years after controls were lifted, said: "Quarterly statistics fluctuate but these figures show an increase of 28,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in employment compared to the same period last year.

"Most of this has occurred when transitional controls were still in place making it likely that there will be an increase in employment over the coming year now that controls have ended.

"This is consistent with our estimate of a 50,000 population increase from Romania and Bulgaria in each of the next five years."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the figures showed claims that the lifting of restrictions would lead to a new wave of immigration from the Balkans were just a "scare story".

"I think what has happened is reassuring for those people who kept calm and didn't buy into this story that we were going to have millions of people flooding the country from the Balkans. I hope that's calmed people down a bit," he said.

Tim Finch, associate director of migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, said:
"These figures suggest the panic whipped up over an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers after transitional controls were lifted on January 1 was alarmist.

"There's been a steady number of people from those countries coming to work in the UK since they joined the EU in 2007, but numbers have actually dropped since the turn of the year.

"Looking wider, migration from other Eastern European countries into the UK has continued to increase.

"Government clampdowns on access to welfare seem to have had no impact, but that's because Poles and others generally do not come to claim benefits but to work, as their impressive levels of employment - at 81%, well above the average - show."

Barbara Roche, chair of cross-party campaign group the Migration Matters Trust, said: "After all of Ukip's prejudice and scaremongering over Romanian and Bulgarian migration, today's figures suggest that the numbers of their citizens in Britain have actually fallen by 4,000 since transitional controls were lifted at the start of the year.

"This is after Ukip claimed that over 5,000 would be arriving each week, every week, for several years.

"What's more, today's figures show it would take 90 years of net immigration of EU citizens to reach the 26 million figure that Ukip have used in their poster campaign."

Ukip said the ONS figures reveal an extra 292,000 foreign workers took up employment in the UK over a year, including 168,000 more EU workers.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: "These numbers represent another huge increase in the number of foreign workers coming into Britain. Far from controlling immigration, this Government has shown it has absolutely no control over Britain's borders and no intention of putting the British people first.

"Having promised the British electorate that they would bring net immigration down to the tens of thousands, the Government has instead overseen another massive increase in those coming to Britain.

"Only Ukip will leave the EU and restore proper borders that mean we can have quality control and volume control when it comes to immigration, rather than the free-for-all that the coalition have overseen following Labour's immigration failure."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "These figures are very different from the predictions some people made before Christmas and whilst it's too early to have long-term figures, it shows the importance of sensible debate rather than shrill claims.

"But the Government needs to do more to address people's legitimate concerns.

"Ministers aren't doing enough to stop employers and agencies exploiting cheap migrant labour, particularly from Eastern Europe, to undercut wages and jobs.

"We do want stronger controls on new European countries in future, but we also need action on zero-hours contracts, agencies only recruiting from abroad, and the undercutting of the minimum wage. That needs tougher laws here and reform in Europe too."

A Conservative minister admitted the Government could miss its target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by the time of the general election next year.

Defence minister Anna Soubry told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "At the moment we don't seem to be on course."

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