More than three million Bulgarians and Romanians have already left their homelands for parts of Europe where there are better job prospects – but they have not come to the UK.
That revelation today by the EU commissioner in charge of labour law was timed to calm fears that hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans will enter the UK this year.
The quarantine period that has kept Bulgarians and Romanians out of the jobs market in the UK and eight other EU states ended at midnight last night, seven years after the two countries achieved full EU membership.
But their citizens have long since enjoyed unrestricted access to 19 EU states, allowing millions of Bulgarians and Romanians to find work abroad – making it unlikely that the UK will face the kind of mass immigration that followed Poland’s EU entry in 2004,
Laszlo Ander, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, claimed in a statement issued today: “It is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers,” he said.
He added that there are two million unfilled job vacancies in the EU, reinforcing the case for allowing EU citizens to move across borders to search for work.
“The free movement of people has been one of the cornerstones of EU integration,” he claimed. “This right is one of the most cherished by Europeans, with over 14 million of them studying, working or retiring in another EU state.”
His forecast was born out by early indications from flight operators. Despite a claim in yesterday’s Daily Mail that “almost all” flights from Romania are full, a spokeswoman for the Romanian airline, Blue Air, said: “We have loads of seats for the next days of January.”
The Romanian government dismissed fears of a sudden influx. “The UK for now is not even the preferred destination for Romanians,” Brandusa Predescu, a spokeswoman for the Bucharest government said.
The Daily Mail also claimed a similar rush to fill flights from Bulgaria. But Professor John Salt of the migration research unit at University College London, told the BBC that the number of advance bookings for flights from Bulgaria in the first quarter of 2014 is fewer than the same period of 2013.
Philippa Roe, Conservative leader of Westminster City Council, said that the London boroughs have no idea how many arrivals to expect. She told the BBC: “The fear that everybody faces is those that come to Britain and either fail to find jobs and therefore fall back on our welfare system, or those who deliberately come here to pickpocket and aggressively beg.”