UK policy on Romanian, Bulgarian students is illegal
The policy of denying Bulgarian and Romanian students employment in Britain is unfair. But that’s not the real issue. The point is it is breaching EU law too, says Galina Kostadinova.
Galina Kostadinova is a Bulgarian lawyer who works for Your Europe Advice, a service run by the European Commission on EU citizens free-movement rights, http://europa.eu/youreurope/advice/
"The Independent has published an article lamenting that UK treats students from Romania and Bulgaria unjustly compared to other EU nationals (Why is the UK biased against students from Romania and Bulgaria?). The author is absolutely right.
The policy of denying Bulgarian and Romanian students employment is unfair. But that’s not the real issue. The point is it is breaching EU law too.
Britain has been systematically breaking or bending EU’s rules. And it is not because it treats Romanians and Bulgarians at its universities worse than, say, Germans, Finns or Greeks.
Authorities handle them worse than students from anywhere in the world, inside or outside of the EU. If you have come to Britain from outside of the EU to do a course - Brazil, Myanmar, Russia, Albania, you name it – you are entitled to work up to 20 hours during term and full-time over the vacation.
That was how it used to be for Bulgarians and Romanians back in the day – until 2007 when their home countries joined the EU. Believe it or not, accession made students from the two southeast European countries worse off when it comes down to employment.
You set foot in the Albion and unlike all your course mates, whatever their nationality, you need to apply to the UK Border Authority (UKBA) for a “yellow certificate” which confirms your right to work part-time.
While your friends get employment on Day 1 you have to put up with waiting about ten months or longer. Meanwhile, the academic year is over. Chances are you’d have difficulties to go home. If you applied for a work certificate, UKBA keeps your ID card or passport so you cannot even leave the country in the meantime.
Surely, there is something wrong going on. Mind you, to lay hands on the cherished “yellow certificate” (which, again, confirms, rather than grants the right to work) Romanian and Bulgarian students have to go through extra hoops: produce a private health insurance (instead of the European Health Insurance Card which covers all EU nationals studying abroad) and provide evidence of a bank account in Britain or a sponsor.
Well, there are transitional measures, the UK bureaucracy responds. Under the 2007 Accession Treaty, Britain has the right to restrict the access to its labour market for citizens of Bulgaria and Romania for up to seven years. Tough luck, dear students. Please be patient and wait for 1 January 2014 when restrictions will expire.
This argumentation is profoundly flawed from the point of view of law. Yes, temporary measures are fully legitimate and Britain is entitled to uphold them until the end. What is not warranted is to treat EU nationals less favourably than those from the outside the Union.
This is a fundamental principle of EU law underpinning the right of free movement, a pillar of European integration. What is more, it was confirmed in June 2012 by the EU Court of Justice (Case C-15/11) concerning restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians imposed by Austria. In sum, Britain is breaking continuously its obligations as an EU member state.
It is not hard to sympathise with students from Romania and Bulgaria. Yet they shouldn’t just petition the British government to change its policy and make it fair as an act of benevolence and understanding.
They should stand up for their rights and call upon the UK to live up to its legal duties under the EU’s single market. Brussels proclaimed 2013 a European Year of Citizens. It’s time to take EU citizen rights seriously."