In spite of the positive impact that labour immigration from eastern Europe has had on the British economy, the UK is unlikely to allow workers from Bulgaria and Romania in after the two countries’ accession in January 2007.
Before the end of October 2006 UK Home Secretary John Reid is set to announce limitations for workers from the two south-eastern European countries willing to settle down in Britain, the Financial Times reported. According to the paper, only a limited number of unskilled workers from the Balkan countries will be allowed to find employment in Britain. The introduction of so-called transitional measures to keep work migrants off the British labour market would require a cabinet decision.
The move would starkly contrast with the UK’s policy on workers from eight Central-European countries that joined the EU in May 2004 (the ‘EU-8′). Tens of thousands of Poles, Slovaks, Czechs, Hungarians and people from the Baltic countries were allowed into Britain, and more than 300,000 eventually found a job there. Trade unions and employers’ organisations agree that, although the influx by far exceeded estimates made prior to EU enlargement, the British economy profited from it.
But when it comes to immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, business does not seem to believe that the trick can be worked again. Back in August 2006, the British Chamber of Commerce and the British Hospitality Association – the trade association for hotels, restaurants and caterers, who employ a particularly high number of immigrants – called for a “pause” to labour immigration, warning that the country could not necessarily absorb another large wave of migrants.
They are backed by the Conservative Party and at least parts of the Labour government. Trade and Industry Secretary Alastair Darling said on 21 August 2006: “There is a strong argument to pause for a period before opening up to workers from further new member states while we learn the lessons from experience to date.” As a result of the underestimations of the number of immigrants from the EU-8, there is concern that much more workers from Bulgaria and Romania may be prepared to come to Britain than currently predicted.