The UK and Ireland, reversing open-door immigration policies that made them magnets for the poor, said they will restrict migration from Bulgaria and Romania when those countries join the European Union in 2007
The UK “needs time to absorb” the wave of migrants allowed in when the EU added 10 countries in 2004, Tom Kelly, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair, said in London. In Dublin, Trade Minister Micheal Martin said Romanians and Bulgarians would have to apply for work permits as they do now. Yesterday's move reflects concerns that immigration in the UK and Ireland is putting strains on schools and hospitals and driving up unemployment and pushing down wages. Both Britain and Ireland had no restrictions on who could come to work there when 10 nations joined the EU two years ago. “We will expect employers to look exclusively to workers from EU nations to meet any low-skilled labor shortages within the UK,” Home Secretary John Reid said in a statement. “From the first of January 2007 we will be phasing out all low-skilled migration schemes for workers outside the EU.” In Britain, three-quarters of voters surveyed want tougher immigration controls while 23% want the rules relaxed or maintained, according to a survey of 975 adults by Ipsos Mori Ltd. on August 13. The UK said it will issue work visas to Bulgarians and Romanians under the current system, with high-skilled applicants, the self-employed, and up to 19,750 agricultural workers allowed in each year. It will be an offence for migrant workers to work in the UK without an authorization document. Breaches will be punished by an on-the-spot fixed penalty, with employers also facing fines. Immigration experts said the measures may drive workers into black-market jobs that aren't regulated by government. Romania and Bulgaria, with a combined population of 30 million, have incomes that are a third of the EU average. “The government can restrict work visas, it cannot restrict access to those who want to come to the UK,” Catherine Drew of the Institute of Public Policy Research said in an interview. “We could see a push of Romanians and Bulgarians into the illegal workforce.” Before EU expansion in the 2004, British officials estimated about 13,000 migrants a year would come into the UK from Poland, Hungary and the other nations joining the union. In August, the Home Office said it had issued 427,095 work permits to eastern Europeans since then and the actual number of migrants was probably closer to 600,000.
Migrationwatch, a UK organization which campaigns for curbs on immigration, said workers from Eastern Europe pay on average just over half the amount of tax as British workers because they earned less. “Such low incomes do not matter as long as these migrants remain young, single and healthy,” said Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch. “But if the number of dependants increases the picture will look very different.” The European Commission joined officials from Bulgaria and Romania in expressing disappointment with the decisions, saying countries should make a bigger effort to allow workers to flow freely within the EU. Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tzanchev said the UK ranks seventh as a destination to work abroad by people in his nation after Spain, Germany, the US, Greece, Brazil, Canada and France. The ministry estimates between 14,000 and 15,300 Bulgarians are interested in working abroad next year. “We don't believe that there is a real threat concerning a massive migration of labor force from Romania to Great Britain,” Romanian Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu said. “There are already many regions in Romania that lack labor force. Romanian companies have started to understand that they won't manage to keep labor force in the country if they don't offer attractive salaries.” Migrants helped boost Britain's workforce to a record 29 million in August, putting the jobless rate at a six-year high of 5.5%. The influx of new workers also helped keep a lid on wage growth, contributing to the Bank of England's efforts to limit interest rate increases. The Confederation of British Industry, the nation's biggest business lobby group, backed the government limit, arguing a wave of cheap labor would threaten UK labor markets and the character of the country. Unions that fund the Blair's Labour Party have urged the prime minister to refrain from setting limits on immigration. The Trades Union Congress, representing 7 million workers, says the government should focus instead on making sure immigrants are paid a fair wage. “The UK government cannot stop the free movement of new EU citizens, nor can it prevent them working as self-employed once they are here,” said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber. “Bogus self-employment and cash-in-hand jobs are two of the commonest ways that workers are exploited in the UK” (Bloomberg)