Britain is facing a new wave of Eastern European immigration which will put British workers’ jobs at risk, experts have warned.
Last night forecasters said it could lead to a significant number of new arrivals, in the same way as when Poland and other Eastern European countries gained the same rights in 2004, with the scale likely to be increased by the economic crisis gripping the rest of Europe.
And a Government report was disclosed to show concern among official advisers that the British labour market will suffer “adverse effects” as a result.
Both the countries’ citizens currently have restricted rights to come to Britain since they joined the European Union in 2007, but those limits end on 31 December 2013, opening the way for them to move freely.
The restrictions will be lifted at a time when there is increasing political tension over Britain’s relationship with Europe and questions over whether European “freedom of movement” rules have harmed the job prospects of British people.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has already indicated she is keen to press for an end to the free movement of EU workers.
But there appears to be no prospect of Britain preventing the restrictions being lifted, as it would involve tearing up the provisions of the treaty signed when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU.
The Home Office has made no official predictions of how many more Bulgarians and Romanians will seek to enter Britain when the current limitations end, and argues that most who want to come have probably arrived already, finding work on the black market if they cannot work legally.
However, critics believe that the Government’s reluctance to issue predictions is because it grossly underestimated the numbers that came in the previous wave of migration in 2004, when citizens from eight new eastern European EU members, including Poland, were given full access to the UK job market.
Despite official predictions that less than 20,000 would arrive, some 669,000 people from those eight countries were working in the UK as of last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Experts on the government’s Migration Advisory Committee agree immigration is likely to rise when the restrictions are lifted, and have warned it will have a negative effect on the job market in Britain.
It said in a report: “Lifting the restrictions would almost certainly have a positive impact on migration inflows to the UK from those countries.
“At one extreme the effect could be small (with the additional annual inflow being in the hundreds or low thousands, for instance) but it could be significantly higher.
“It would not be sensible, or helpful to policymakers, for us to attempt to put a precise numerical range around this likely impact.”
It said there was evidence Bulgarians would come to Britain because of this country’s higher rates of GDP, and also said it was “plausible” that Romanians would come for the same reasons.
Robert Rowthorn, emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge University, said: “The potential for immigration is very large because these are poor countries and they have populations of nearly 30 million between them.
“I think it will have quite a big effect. When Poland and other eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004 there was an unexpected surge and around one million of them are living in this country now, with net migration running at about 40,000 a year.
“I imagine a similar pattern will be repeated with Romania and Bulgaria, although the transitional controls have perhaps taken the edge off somewhat.”
GDP per capita in 2010 was £3,929 ($6,325) in Bulgaria – the poorest country in the EU – and £4,682 ($7,538) in Romania compared with £22,426 ($36,100) in the UK. Both countries have falling populations due to emigration.
Already figures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph show the number of immigrants coming from the two countries reached a peak of just over 40,000 last year – suggesting that there is likely to be an even great number in 2015.
More than 130,000 immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are living in Britain and Britain is one of the most popular destinations for Bulgarian migrants, along with Greece, Spain and Germany, while the Romanian Embassy says that Spain and Italy attract 80 per cent of their emigrants.
But the perilous state of the Greek and Spanish economies may mean that much larger numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians decide to come here instead.
Those who come currently either have to have a job when they move or declare themselves as self-employed.
However an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has revealed how loopholes in current restrictions have allowed eastern Europeans to take 50,000 jobs from which they should have been excluded.
By declaring themselves technically “self-employed”, Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to access jobs in trades like hotel and restaurant work, sales, and taxi-driving. Hundreds of women have also been hired as self-employed lapdancers.
Romanian and British job agencies have become adept at streamlining the paperwork involved for employers, so that even waiters, hotel receptionists and porters can be hired on a self-employed basis.
The “self-employed” category is also being used by strip clubs to recruit young Romanian and Bulgarian women, according to adverts placed on tjobs.ro, Romania’s leading recruitment website.
One, posted by a Romanian agency named “Baran & Co”, offers to recruit girls for clubs in Birmingham and Leicester, earning £10 per “dance” for a client and up to £60 for a “VIP” dance.
While the clubs are not named on the advertisement, a call to Baran & Co revealed that one of them was Angels nightclub in West Bromwich, whose website offers promises a display of “stunning and devilish” women “in the heart of the Black Country”.
Statistics gathered by tjobs.ro show that a total of 774 jobs in British strip clubs have been offered to Romanians. Some promised earnings of between £3,000 and £7,000 per month.
“We have a lot of beautiful women in Romania and they can make a lot of money in this way, although many of them are graduates and only do it for a year,” said Brindusa Ciuca, spokeswoman for tjobs.ro.
“What exactly they get up to in the UK I wouldn’t want to speculate on, and this kind of work can be dangerous.
“We take the adverts on, though, because they are legitimate job offers and otherwise it would all just be done underground.”
Based in the town of Targu Mures in Transylvania – a rural area where locals have long been used to travelling in search of work – the tjobs.ro agency acts as a clearing house for all recruitment firms seeking Romanians for UK work.
In the past two and a half years, it has advertised some 81,476 jobs in Britain.
Of these, 16,348 offers were in tourism and hotels, 15,385 were au pair and babysitting jobs, 8,650 were restaurant and catering jobs, 4,169 were in sales, 1,547 in household cleaning and maintenance, and 1,147 in transport, which includes chauffeuring and taxi driving.
Dr Martin Ruhs, director of the Oxford University Migration Observatory, said: “The Government’s policy intention has been to restrict employment for Romanians and Bulgarians, and to the extent that there are ways of getting around it, that undermines policy aims towards low paid jobs. I also can’t imagine that anybody intended to have Bulgarian and Romanian lapdancers here.”
Official figures from the Department for Work and Pensions showed 40,260 Romanian and Bulgarian workers applied for National Insurance numbers last year – the largest number on record and a 28 per cent rise year on year.
Sir Andrew Green, director of MigrationWatch UK, said: “I think there could be a significant spike from Romania and Bulgaria, particularly as the ecomonies in other parts of the EU are suffering serious difficulties.
“Neither Spain nor Italy are a good bet at the moment if you’re looking for a job.
“I think we need a further five year extension of the transitional arrangements. Britain has done our bit with eastern European migrants – we’ve taken far more than any other country – and we could justify a special case for such an extension.”
Sinclair Stevenson, the chief executive of Bucharest-based Premier Global International recruitment, said: “I think people in Romania will take advantage, as there is already now quite a strong community in the UK. With their language abilities, they have a propensity go there anyway.”
Croatia is also due to join the EU in July next year but with a population of just four million it is unlikely to lead to large numbers of arrivals in Britain, and will also be subject to transitional controls.