Victoria coach station in central London, one of the main destinations for visitors from the Continent and a place where busloads of Eastern European migrants were expected to arrive, was virtually deserted.
Fears that a torrent of Romanians and Bulgarians would take advantage of new rules freeing them to live and work in the UK proved unfounded.
Amid the negative rhetoric by the Conservatives and Ukip over immigration, Labour warned of the dangers posed by foreign workers coming to Britain.
David Hanson, the shadow Immigration minister, accused the Government of failing to protect low-skilled British workers from being undercut by cheaper foreign labour.
He called for a “focus on low-skilled immigration” and said: “We have been arguing for the past year that [the Government] should be looking at other measures, such as [enforcing] the minimum wage, extending gangmaster legislation to areas such as catering and tourism, and particularly focusing on recruitment agencies which are recruiting solely from Eastern Europe.”
But Mr Hanson called for a “calm, measured approach” to the issue, rather than what he dubbed a “frenzy”. His comments, in an interview with the BBC, came as Britain’s borders were opened to Bulgarian and Romanian workers.
TV crews and tabloid reporting teams had been dispatched to Victoria coach station in the early hours, but their hopes of seeing crowds of desperate economic migrants were dashed and they soon left. There was no sign of a surge of arrivals by air either. A flight that landed at Luton airport from Romania this morning contained just one passenger who said he had come to Britain looking for work.
Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, including its chair, Keith Vaz, greeted the passengers, most of whom already live and work in the UK. “We’ve seen no evidence of people who have rushed out and bought tickets in order to arrive because it’s the 1st of January,” he said.
Only Victor Spiresau, 30, was coming to the country for the first time. The builder hopes to make as much in an hour as he would earn in a day in Romania, but he said: “I don’t come to rob your country. I come to work and then go home.” He added: “It’s much easier to live in Romania because it’s not expensive.”
Government rules which took effect today mean EU migrants will be unable to claim out-of-work benefits for their first three months in Britain. Any found begging or sleeping rough could be deported and barred from re-entry for 12 months. And it was announced this week that overseas visitors will be charged for NHS treatment.
Roxana Carare, an honorary Romanian consul in Britain, dismissed fears of an invasion of foreign workers. “Britain is not top of the list because this is an Anglo-Saxon country and Romania is a Latin country. People are more likely to go to Italy, Spain and other Latin countries.”
While Britain remains an attractive destination for Bulgarians and Romanians seeking to earn more than they would in their home countries, Germany “remains the most attractive destination in terms of its low unemployment rate and a large number of vacancies”, according to an analysis by Migration Watch.
Back at the coach station, the arrivals area was so quiet that one of its two snack shops remained closed all day. A group of backpackers laughed off concerns of a surge in visitors, saying: “We are Hungarians so it doesn’t bother us.”
Kaylee Gauntlett, 23, a nursing student travelling to the Isle of Wight after spending New Year’s Eve in the capital, said: “The best person for the job is the best person, irrespective of where they come from. I think the threat of mass immigration from these two countries has been hyped, I don’t think there will be the surge that some people expect.”