Romanians and Bulgarians working in UK up 26%

UK border controls at Heathrow Restrictions on the type of jobs that can be taken are due to be lifted

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The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK rose by nearly 26% between April and June, figures show.

The Office for National Statistics said 141,000 had been employed in that period, compared with 112,000 in the previous three months.

Campaigners for tighter controls claim there will be a bigger rise next year as rules on the type of jobs people from the two nations can do expire.

The Home Office said citizens of the countries made up 0.3% of UK employees.

BBC political correspondent Susana Mendonca said the issue of migration from Romania and Bulgaria was a controversial one.

The government has not said how many more migrants it expects once the labour market is open fully to the two countries later this year.

Labour urged the government to do more to address the potential impact on infrastructure and public services.

'Unexpected uptake'

Analysis

Over the past year the number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the UK has hovered above the 100,000 mark before jumping to 141,000 between April and June.

It is an increase, year-on-year, of 35.1% - a larger percentage rise than any other nationality identified in the ONS report.

Some of the increase may be explained by the seasonal agricultural workers scheme - under which 21,250 Romanians and Bulgarians have been allowed to work on farms and in food processing for up to six months - but not all of it.

Could it be that people from Romania and Bulgaria are coming to Britain early, trying to bag work, aware they will have greater freedom to do so in January?

Or is it simply a reflection of a more buoyant labour market?

Ministers will be hoping it is the latter and does not foreshadow an influx similar to when Poland and seven other Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004.

Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for tighter controls on immigration, said the latest figures were in line with its estimate that net migration from Romania and Bulgaria would stand at about 50,000 a year for the next five years.

"We hadn't expected this early uptake - quite a considerable increase - nine months before our labour market is open and I think it does suggest that there's a good deal of interest in these countries in coming to work here," Migration Watch chairman Andrew Green told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

It backed up opinion polls suggesting migrant workers were making "concrete plans", added Sir Andrew.

"It's not surprising, because take-home pay here will be four or five times what these workers will get at home," he said.

Sarah Mulley, associate director for migration and communities at centre-left think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, agreed the early increase was surprising but said that instead of focusing on the figures the government should "make sure that we're prepared whatever the numbers are".

"I think that's what people are most worried about on the ground rather than this national-level discussion about population and numbers," she added.

Graphic: Eastern European workers in the UK

The number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers coming to the UK between April to June increased at a greater rate than other nationalities.

But the Home Office said overall more people from western EU countries had come to work in Britain in the period.

Bulgarians and Romanians have had the right to visa-free travel to the UK since 2007 when their countries joined the EU. But there have been temporary restrictions on the kind of jobs they could take.

Start Quote

We are working to ensure that our controls on accessing benefits and services are amongst the tightest in Europe”

End Quote Home Office spokesman

Access to the UK labour market was limited to the registered self employed, and under a quota system to people working in low skilled jobs in food processing and seasonal agricultural work. Companies could also employ skilled staff if they obtained a work permit.

The restrictions will be dropped at the end of the year in accordance with EU rules.

Diplomats from Bulgaria and Romania have repeatedly stressed that they are not expecting a "wave" of migration from their countries.

'No soft touch'

The UK government is considering limiting migrants' access to benefits, healthcare and housing.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We welcome those that want to come here to work and contribute to the economy."

But he added: "Those who are tempted to come here to try and abuse public services should know that we are not a soft touch.

"We are focusing on cutting out the abuse of free movement between EU member states and addressing the pull factors that drive European immigration to Britain.

"Across government, we are working to ensure that our controls on accessing benefits and services, including the NHS and social housing, are amongst the tightest in Europe to protect the UK from abuse."

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said ministers needed to publish their own estimates of the numbers they expect to arrive so local authorities can make "proper plans".

He added: "They should be taking action now to prevent any increase in exploitation of migrant workers distorting the labour market yet further next year.

"And they are still doing nothing to address enforcement of the minimum wage, use of agencies targeting only foreign workers, or training and skills shortages in key sectors like hospitality."

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