According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain has gone down since border controls on them were fully lifted in January this year.
The first official numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK workforce undermine predictions that thousands would come to Britain once the doors were fully open to them.
The Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, stated that the figures “give the lie to Ukip’s scaremongering on immigration”, while the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, Keith Vaz, claimed that those who “predicted the end of the world on 1 January” – such as Nigel Farage – now owed the public an apology.
Further, to confirm the falling figures, the labour force survey figures show that there were 122,000 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals working in Britain in March this year. This is a fall from the 125,000 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals working in the UK in December, just before the last of the seven-year transitional controls were lifted on the new EU members on 1st January.
However, this was 19,000 more than in March 2013, showing that the numbers initially increased by 20% before the controls were lifted. During that time, self-employed migrants and those working for multinational companies were able to come to work in Britain.
The recent fall may be accounted for by Romanians and Bulgarians deciding to work in other EU countries such as Germany – which also lifted final border controls on the two countries on 1st January, rather than come to the UK.
The detailed figures show that there are now 2.7 million foreign nationals in the UK workforce of 30 million (just under 10%), which includes a rise of 74,000 in the first three months of 2014. This is almost entirely accounted for by an increase of 75,000 workers from eastern Europe, including Poland. There will also be 60,000 fewer short-term workers from Romania and Bulgaria coming to Britain this year after the closure of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme.
Ukip responded to the figures by ignoring the fall in Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK workforce. Farage tweeted: “Huge increase of 292,000 foreign workers in past year demonstrates that the coalition immigration policy has been an abject failure.”
However, Keith Vaz said: “Those, including Ukip, who promised the end of the world on 1 January, now owe the public and those from Romania and Bulgaria a full apology.”
“By not understanding the likely levels of immigration we risk increasing the poisonous rhetoric and prejudice which leads to the destruction of all rational debate. We must not have an immigration arms race.”
A BBC Newsnight poll of Romanian nationals intending to work in another EU country last April showed that 30% wanted to go to Italy, 24% to Germany and only 16% to the UK.
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