Reid hints he will restrict number of immigrants from new EU countries

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Indy Politics

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians allowed to work in the UK will be restricted, the Home Secretary has strongly indicated.

John Reid appears to have bowed to growing pressure to curb fresh immigration from eastern Europe. Mr Reid said yesterday that immigration from Romania and Bulgaria would need to be "carefully managed" if the former Communist countries join the European Union next year.

An estimated 600,000 east Europeans, mostly from Poland, have moved to the UK since 2004 when eight former Communist countries joined the EU. Original estimates put the influx at between 5,000 and 13,000 a year.

The Home Secretary, speaking at the Police Superintendents' Association annual conference in Chester, argued that there were social dangers if there was unrestricted access. He said: "As global migration increases and the EU continues to expand, we need to be ready for fresh challenges - including in the law enforcement field. That is why we need to manage immigration carefully, including in respect of the forthcoming decision over Romania and Bulgaria."

The EU is expected to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join from January.

One idea being considered by the Government is to restrict access via a work permit system, in which migrants have to show they have specific skills. The permits would be similar to the points-based scheme used for migrants from outside the EU, which stresses education, qualifications and earning power.

Conservative politicians and the Migrationwatch right-wing group, which campaigns against mass immigration, have argued that the number of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants allowed to work in the UK should be restricted.

Migrationwatch has predicted there will be 300,000 arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria over 20 months unless access to the labour market is restricted. The Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-wing think-tank, put the figure at 56,000 in the first year.