Reid warns new EU partners not to turn up without a permit

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Indy Politics

The Home Office has spent nearly £280,000 on an advertising campaign warning Bulgarians and Romanians not to come to Britain unless they are skilled and have been offered a job.

The campaign is designed to deter nationals from the two newest EU members who join today from arriving in the UK in search of work only to find they are liable to be fined for illegal entry.

The Government has been heavily criticised for underestimating the number of migrants likely to seek work in the UK after the last major expansion of the EU, when eight former communist states became members in May 2004.

For Bulgaria, one of the first costs of membership is that two of its nuclear reactors will close today, after the EU ruled that they were unsafe. The Bulgarian government has protested that the closure will push up electricity prices, and that the £145m compensation it has been promised by the EU is insufficient to cover losses.

In October, the Home Secretary, John Reid, risked accusations of xenophobia by announcing strict measures to restrict the number of arrivals, including fines up to £1,000 to any who take jobs without a permit. The only Bulgarians and Romanians permitted to work here will be a small number of highly skilled employees with jobs waiting for them, 20,000 agricultural workers, and the self-employed.

Potential travellers have been warned: "You should consider carefully whether you are likely to find work that will meet the requirements of the United Kingdom's work permit arrangements. In most cases, this means that you will need an offer of skilled employment."

The Government has been using television, radio and hoardings to get the message across in Romania and Bulgaria. Some 8,000 posters have been put up and 40,000 leaflets distributed across the two countries. The campaign is being run by the International Organisation for Migration but funded by a Home Office grant, and will run until 30 March.

A Home Office spokesman said: "It's in everyone's interest to ensure that people from Bulgaria and Romania clearly understand the rules we are putting in place. This will help to ensure that people won't arrive here under the illusion that they will be able to enter jobs straight away or to claim benefits."

Mr Reid's approach contrasts sharply with the Home Office's attitude in 2004, when it adopted an open door policy, predicting that the numbers coming in from countries like Poland and Hungary would be low. Officials expected 5,000 to 13,000, but in fact, 447,000 registered for work in the first two years, including nearly 265,000 from Poland. The overall total of people who found work in the UK, including the self-employed, could be around 600,000, although many were here temporarily and have returned home.

The familiar sight of the Polish plumber, or the Lithuanian student serving in a fast food restaurant, has led to complaints that they are adding to the unemployment level of young Britons. The number of jobless in the UK rose during 2006, at the same time that record numbers were in work.

However, the biggest concentrations of east European migrants are in areas where employment levels are high, such as East Anglia, and the Home Office turned out to be correct in predicting that most would be young and keen to work.

Eighty per cent were under 34, and fewer than 1 per cent applied for unemployment benefit, of whom only 768 were deemed eligible. Fears that they would drive up waiting times for council housing have not been borne out. In two years, just 110 council homes have been let to east Europeans.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, claimed yesterday: "The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union will lead to another wave of mass migration and a time when the UK can ill afford it."

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