There has been much anti-immigration rhetoric on the impact of the lifting next year of European Union restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming to these shores.
Figures of between 30,000 and 70,000 Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK in each of the next five years have been bandied around.
This has been compounded by the fact that the UK Government is unable to say how many will be coming. Before Poland became a member of the EU in 2004, the Home Office estimated that between 5,000 and 13,000 Poles would come to Britain every year. Within two years, 264,560 had arrived.
Earlier this month, Conservative MP Stewart Jackson presented a bill calling for limits to be imposed on Romanians and Bulgarians coming to Britain, commenting on an earlier “mistake”, which was to “import a very large number of low-wage, low-skill workers and embed welfare dependency in our indigenous workforce”.
What he omits to mention, however, is the positive impact of the last big influx of workers from new EU member countries. Yes, it was vastly higher than predicted, but it was also more successful than forecast.
According to a study conducted by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, migrants from so-called A8 countries (the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004) made a positive contribution to the country’s public finances in each fiscal year since their EU accession. Although they mostly work in low-wage jobs, their labour-force participation and employment rates tend to be higher than average, which offsets the impact of their lower wages.
Most importantly, the UK today is less attractive to would-be immigrants than it was ten years ago. In 2004, only the UK and two other countries did away with almost all restrictions for workers from A8 countries. This time, all EU countries are opening their labour markets to Romanians and Bulgarians, and the UK economy is not in great condition. The potential influx of Romanians and Bulgarians into the UK may therefore be more an issue of perception than reality.
• Alex Orr is a board member of the European Movement.