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Romania and Bulgaria lobby the UK for open-doors

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Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK at some of the highest levels of banking, law, commerce and industry urged the British Government today to utilize the same open-door policy that was granted to new members of the EU-25 two years ago in the United Kingdom.

There has been serious controversy in the past two months as the current EU-25 nations stall on final decisions regarding the access rights for working and migration they will allow the EU-27 accession States.

Romania and Bulgaria are likely to get the green light this week to join the 25-strong union on 01 January but, at the same time, the Home Office is preparing to announce restrictive controls on the rights of their citizens to work in Britain. John Reid, the Home Secretary, has decided that Romanians and Bulgarians will only be given work permits if they are highly qualified or can fill skills shortages.

When eight of the East European nations joined the European Union in May 2004, three countries (Sweden, Ireland and the United Kingdom) imposed zero restrictions, while other EU-15 nations imposed different degrees of restrictions for an interim period. Britain and many other EU-25 States are now analyzing why the UK received nearly 600,000 migrants from East Europe, more than 60% who arrived from Poland, when approximately 15,000 were expected.

There have been growing fears, both among business organizations and Labour MPs, that the recent rise in unemployment has been caused by migrant workers filling posts at the expense of native, working-class job-seekers. While 300,000 new jobs have been created over the past year, around 250,000 people, largely from the lower-skilled sector, have joined the official jobless count.

In a recent open letter to The Independent, some 45 senior executives in organizations such as Goldman Sachs and KPMG, warned ministers that protectionist measures would only harm the UK. The letter - which they signed in a personal capacity - said: "We are already established and fully integrated in the UK, contributing to its economic vibrancy, business success and the public services.

"We applaud the vigorous debate that is taking place in the UK on migration but are concerned at the implication that migration from Bulgaria and Romania needs to be managed more than any other group of immigrants.

"We hope that the UK will continue the policy lead it took in 2004, when it was one of only three countries to open its labor market to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the other countries of Eastern Europe. An open labor market, rather than protectionism, has proved the right course in the past and will do so in the future."

The letter added: "Just as many UK citizens have sought to work, study and live in other EU member states, this option will be increasingly available to the peoples of Eastern Europe."

The letter was organized by Business for a New Europe (BNE), a campaign group supported by the heads of some of the country's leading companies.

The Government has considered and debated its response to the admission of the two new member states, with Foreign Office ministers urging that a liberal line should be taken over allowing Romanians and Bulgarians to work in Britain. They also predict that the new EU citizens are more likely to head towards Greece and Italy than further west.

But Mr. Reid has decided to introduce a "points system" which assesses the skills, qualifications and experience of potential workers. Details of the scheme will be provided shortly, possibly in the Home Secretary's speech to the Labour conference in Manchester later in the week.

Last week he said that the Government would handle immigration from Romania and Bulgaria "carefully" and hinted at worries over the levels of organized crime in the two states. The Home Office also privately admits that it was taken by surprise by the scale of labor movement when Poland and seven other east European nations joined the European Union.

Considering that the combined populations of Romania and Bulgaria are roughly equivalent to 75% of the population of Poland, some fears are that a worst-case scenario would be nearly 400,000 people from the EU-27 accession States attempting to relocate to the UK. If more other countries have a fully open-door policy, that would probably affect the migration patterns, no matter the actual volume.

Roland Rudd, the chairman of BNE and founder of the City of London PR firm Finsbury, said the letter showed the range of entrepreneurial, educational and other activities that Bulgarians and Romanians in the UK were already involved in.

"In many respects, they can serve as the role models for future generations of migrants," he said. "The workers from eastern Europe who were already in the UK, as well as those which have come since 2004, have contributed hugely to our economy. We should be inspired by the energy and creativity of these workers, who can help the UK's economy become more competitive. Business for New Europe believes that the prospect of further migration from Eastern Europe should be a source of celebration, not cowardice."

The Bulgarian authorities have started a PR offensive to assuage some of the Government's worries about expansion of the union.

Last week the embassy in London published research showing that the number of Bulgarians planning to emigrate permanently to other EU states had fallen since 2001. In particular, the number looking to move to work had fallen from 7% to 3%.

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