UK 'will leave EU' if it cannot halt Romanian and Bulgarian immigration

The leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage made a speech in the European Parliament on 6th February 2013 saying that, if the UK cannot negotiate further restrictions on the movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers to the UK, it will leave the European Union. Mr Farage said 'I have nothing against Romanians or Bulgarians but it is unacceptable that we should open our doors to them unconditionally from 1st January next year.'

UKIP is a right wing anti-European party that has, according to a poll carried out in December 2012, around 15% support among the British electorate, a record high. Under the UK's 'first past the post' electoral system, this means that they have no representatives in the Westminster parliament, though the party does have 12 of the UK's 73 MEPs at the European Parliament in Brussels because they are elected by proportional representation.

Splitting the right wing vote

But UKIP does have the power to put pressure on the UK's Conservative Party. Recent calculations performed by top pollster Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University shows that, at the next election in 2015, if UKIP support holds up, UKIP will prevent the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron from winning 51 parliamentary seats by splitting the right wing vote, thereby delivering victory to the opposition Labour Party. Therefore David Cameron is under increasing pressure to take a harder line on Europe and on immigration in order to win back votes from UKIP and retain power.

No doubt intending to put yet more pressure on Mr Cameron, Mr Farage said 'the debate in Britain has changed. And now it is about immigration. People in Britain are shocked at the change in every single city and market town since we opened the doors to Eastern Europe in 2004.'

Transitional controls

Bulgaria and Romania became members of the EU in 2007. EU law allowed existing member states to place transitional controls on the free movement of workers from those countries for seven years. The purpose of these controls is to allow time for the economies of the accession countries to develop further after joining the EU. It is hoped that in the seven year period there will be a greater number of jobs in these countries and that this will greatly reduce the incentive for immigration to elsewhere in the EU.

In 2007, the UK, along with all the other long-standing EU member states of Western Europe (except Sweden), placed controls on the movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers. No doubt they feared that many Bulgarians and Romanians would be attracted by the possibility of higher wages in the west. The controls in some of these countries have since been relaxed or removed but some restrictions on the movement of Bulgarian and Romanian workers remain in Spain, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta and Austria. The more recently admitted EU member states of Eastern Europe did not introduce transitional controls.

The longest that transitional controls can last according to EU law is seven years so Romanians and Bulgarians will be free to come to the UK to work from January 2014. However, critics of the system worry that, in the seven years since the countries joined the EU, wages have not risen greatly in Bulgaria and Romania, which means that it will still be an attractive proposition for many from the two countries to move to the UK and other countries of western Europe. Anti-immigration pressure group Migrationwatch UK has warned that 250,000 people are likely to move to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania in the five years between 2014 and 2019.

Migrationwatch says that the situation will be similar to that in 2004 when Poland and nine other countries joined the EU. The UK did not put any controls on the movement of workers at that time. The UK government said that it expected between 5,000 and 13,000 people to come to the UK every year from the ten countries that joined in 2004. In fact, no one knows how many came but it is estimated that over 1m Poles now live in the UK and that as many as 2m people may have come to the UK from those countries in the decade since 2004.

Last month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that he wanted to restrict the right of Bulgarians and Romanians to social security in the UK as a method of preventing them from moving to the UK when the restrictions are lifted but he said that it was not possible to limit the right of Romanians and Bulgarians to move to the UK to work as the freedom of movement of labour was one of the 'key freedoms' of the EU.

There has been considerable speculation in some UK newspapers about the numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians who will come when the restrictions are lifted. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has called for the transitional controls to be extended in order to prevent 'an increase in rough sleeping' in the capital.

Romanians 'already here'

All this speculation and comment has caused the Romanian ambassador to London, Dr Ion Jinga, to respond in unconventional style. Dr Jinga said that the UK should not fear further Romanian immigration because all the Romanians who wanted to come to the UK had already done so. Dr Jinga added that they had played a vital role in the building of the stadium that housed the Olympics in east London in the summer of 2012. Dr Jinga is correct. Self-employed workers from Bulgaria and Romania have had the right to work in the EU long before the countries joined the European Union in 2007.

Dr Jinga said that the rules of Romania's accession to the EU meant that all self-employed Romanians and Bulgarians have been able to work in the UK for years. 'It is always a possibility to find a job, even if it is under restrictions, and that solution is to declare yourself self-employed, and many Romanians have done so. In the construction sector, there are many Romanians here and that is why your Olympic village was built up last year.' Figures show that this is true. 8% or 8,465 of workers who built the Olympic park were from Romania

Dr Jinga added 'There are some restrictions for some areas of activities but no visa requirements, so those Romanians who have wanted to come to Britain, they have already done it'. Dr Jinga added that most Romanians who wanted to work in the EU had moved to Spain, Italy and France where the Latin language makes it easier for Romanians to communicate.

The Bulgarian foreign minister Nikolai Mladenov told journalists 'I do not expect the UK to be overwhelmed by a wave of our nationals…I think people in the UK, given your history, must understand that immigration has always been beneficial to your economy.'

Workpermit.com is a specialist visa consultancy with nearly twenty-five years of experience dealing with visa applications. We are OISC registered. We can help with a wide range of visa applications to the UK or your country of choice. Please feel free to contact us for further details.