Claims that a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians will place massive strain on public services when restrictions are eased on their right to live in Britain are dismissed in a Foreign Office-commissioned report published today.
It also played down predictions that huge numbers will opt for a new life in Britain, suggesting they are more likely to head for Spain, Italy or Germany.
The analysis, by the independent National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), casts doubt on warnings by the UK Independence Party and some Conservative MPs that hundreds of thousands of people from the two nations could soon be on their way to Britain.
It also came after David Cameron announced moves to prevent immigrants – including new arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria – abusing free health care and the benefits system and jumping the housing queue.
However, NIESR concluded that migration from the two countries was “unlikely to have a significant impact”. It said: “Economic migrants, in particular, are generally young and healthy and as such do not make major demands on health services.”
It also quoted studies which found people from eastern European countries such as Poland were “less likely to claim benefits than other migrant groups”.
The report said newcomers’ families could potentially add to pressure on primary school places, although it pointed out that evidence suggested the presence of migrant children did not affect the performance of schools.
It added: “A widespread public perception persists that migrants pose a disproportionate burden in the social housing market in particular, yet evidence to date does not substantiate this claim.”
The study refused to forecast how many Romanians and Bulgarians would come to Britain when controls are scrapped in January, describing estimates as probably “inaccurate and misleading”.
But it added: “Available evidence suggests the UK is not a favoured destination for Bulgarians and Romanians who are considering migration as a future option.”
New arrivals were likely to settle in London and the South East, unlike the last wave of eastern and central Europeans migrants who travelled to all parts of Britain after their home countries joined the European Union.
It acknowledged its prediction was uncertain because of the economic problems in southern European nations with large numbers of incomers from the two countries.
Last month the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles admitted the Government had “no idea” about the size of the possible influx and ministers have refused to make predictions.
Ukip has claimed that between 350,000 and 400,000 Romanians and Bulgarians could come to Britain, while a Tory MP has put the number at 270,000.
However, research commissioned by the last Labour Government suggested the number could be 8,100 Romanians and 4,600 Bulgarians.
According to a British Labour Force sample survey, there are currently 26,000 Bulgarians and 80,000 Romanians living in the UK. They are likely to be low-skilled workers - employed in construction, catering, hospitality, and as carers or cleaners, the report said.
The Minister for Europe, David Lidington, described the research as “a welcome contribution to the debate on migration”. He said it would “help to shape this Government’s work to build an immigration system which works in the national interest”.