How fears over Romanian and Bulgarian immigration have been exaggerated

A new survey shows that just one per cent of Romanians and four per cent of Bulgarians have begun to look for work in the UK and most will only migrate with a firm offer.

Few subjects have exercised Conservative MPs more in recent months than the subject of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. Today, ahead of the end of transitional controls on the countries in 2014, parliament will debate an e-petition urging the government to stop "mass immigration from Bulgarian and Romanians" (it has received 145,364 signatures). 

But will there be any "mass immigration" to stop? A Newsnight survey of more than a thousand people in each country, the first to be conducted in recent years, suggests not. Asked to pick their first choice of EU country to move to in either 2013 or 2014, just 4.6 per cent of Romanians and 9.3 per cent of Bulgarians chose the UK. When asked specifically whether they would consider the UK as a destination, these numbers rose to 8.2 per cent for Romanians and 13.6 per cent for Bulgarians. But questioned on whether they have made concrete plans to move to UK, such as searching for accommodation and employment, these figures fall significantly. Just 1.2 per cent of Bulgarians and 0.4 of Romanians have begun to look accommodation and only four per cent of Bulgarians and one per cent of Romanians have started to look for work either with a recruitment agency or independently. In addition, of those looking for work, 65 per cent of Romanians and 60 per cent of Bulgarians said they would only migrate to the UK with a firm offer of employment. 

History shows that when assessing the likely number of migrants, it's important to distinguish between potential and actual plans. Past surveys have shown that as many as 50 per cent of Bulgarians would like to work abroad but in the last decade only around six per cent have actually left. 

It has long been clear that the removal of immigration controls on the countries is unlikely to lead to an influx comparable to that from the eastern European accession countries in 2004 (the Labour government forecast that just 13,000 a year would emigrate to the UK; the actual figure was 300,000). Romanians and Bulgarians have already had open access to the UK, if not its labour markets, since joining the EU in 2007, so many of those interested in living and working in the country have already come.

In addition, unlike in 2004, when only the UK, Ireland and Sweden opened their labour markets to new EU arrivals, in 2014, all EU member states will do so. As many, if not more, Romanians and Bulgarians will migrate to Italy and Spain, where large diaspora populations already exist, as to the UK. Finally, while the combined populations of the 2004 accession countries is around 70 million, Romania and Bulgaria have 29 million people between them, limiting the potential for mass immigration. But with UKIP likely to exploit the issue for all its worth in the local elections, the Tories are unlikely to dial down their rhetoric accordingly. 

A protester waves a Romanian 1989 Revolution flag during a protest at Piata Universitatii square. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour MP Sarah Champion resigns over grooming gang piece in The Sun

The shadow equalities minister is standing down after her controversial article sparked accusations of racism.

Sarah Champion has resigned as shadow equalities minister over her incendiary article about grooming gangs in The Sun.

The Labour MP for Rotherham caused controversy by writing a piece about the Newcastle paedophile ring, which the tabloid headlined: "British Pakistanis ARE raping white girls... and we need to face up to it".

This sparked accusations of racism, including from figures in her own party. Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, wrote in the Independent“Such an incendiary headline and article is not only irresponsible but is also setting a very dangerous precedent and must be challenged.”

Champion initially tried to distance herself from how the article was framed, claiming that the opening paragraphs were edited and "stripped of nuance". The paper, however, said her team approved the piece and were "thrilled" with it.

In her resignation statement, Champion apologised for causing offence: “I apologise for the offence caused by the extremely poor choice of words in the Sun article on Friday. I am concerned that my continued position in the shadow cabinet would distract from the crucial issues around child protection which I have campaigned on my entire political career.”

“It is therefore with regret that I tender my resignation as shadow secretary of state for women and equalities.”

In a comment decrying The Sun's general Islamophobia-inciting coverage, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned against "attempts to brand communities or ethnic or religious groups, wittingly or unwittingly".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.