UK Politics

Diplomats: Up to 35,000 Bulgarians and Romanians will come to UK

Airport arrivals sign Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Work restrictions finish at the end of the year

Up to 35,000 Bulgarian and Romanian migrants may come to the UK next year when work restrictions end, the countries' diplomats have said.

The Bulgarian ambassador said he expected between 8,000 and 10,000 to travel, arguing that a massive influx of migrants was "out of the question"

Konstantin Dimitrov criticised "bombastic" forecasts made by others.

His Romanian counterpart Ion Jinga said he expected between 15,000 and 25,000 nationals to come to the UK in 2014.

Transitional controls on what work Romanians and Bulgarians can do in the UK have been in place since the two countries joined the EU in 2007.

'Preferred destination'

The end of the controls on 31 December has triggered a fierce debate on the likely number of incomers next year, and their economic and social impact.

The UK government has declined to give estimates of how many migrants it expects but Migration Watch, which campaigns for tighter controls of immigration, has said it could be anywhere between 30,000 and 70,000.

Dr Jinga told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that he "did not have a crystal ball" but he believed the improving state of the Romanian economy, with low levels of unemployment and affordable housing, would limit the number of people coming to seek work in the UK.

"The preferred destination for Romanians is now Romania," he told MPs.

His calculations suggested between 15,000 and 25,000 might come to the UK in 2014. Of the 80,000 to 100,000 Romanians already working in the UK, the majority had come to "fill employment shortages" in industries such as construction, he argued.

'Political game'

Conservative MP Mark Reckless said the two men's estimates "fitted well within" the boundaries set out by Migration Watch.

Dr Jinga said he would welcome UK ministers visiting his country to set out any concerns they had about the matter and also to explain the situation regarding possible changes in access to benefits and health services.

Mr Dimitrov said he would expect the UK to apply all EU regulations with regard to eligibility to benefits in full.

"Bulgarians are not aiming to misuse your social benefit system," he said. "As for taking jobs, it is a free European market."

Asked about the tone of the debate in the UK on the issue, Mr Dimitrov said some of the rhetoric was "unacceptable and un-European" but he understood that it was part of a "domestic political game".

The last Labour government has been heavily criticised for under-estimating the level of migration from eastern Europe after 10 countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, were admitted to the EU in 2004.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper told MPs the "quite different" range of estimates being bandied about over Bulgaria and Romania showed the difficulty of making accurate predictions on the issue.

"That is exactly the reason why the government does not think this is a particularly helpful thing to do," he said.

He acknowledged that ministers would be held to account if their forecasts proved to be "hopelessly inaccurate".

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