News 14 Feb 13

Romania Immigration Fears Unfounded, Experts Say

European fears of a mass influx from Romania in 2014 were unreal, a Bucharest conference staged by the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence has heard.

Marian Chiriac

The labour curbs imposed by several EU member states on Romanians were not beneficial for anyone - and British fears of mass immigration from Romania next year are groundless - a conference in Bucharest organised by the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence heard.

The conference, entitled “Six Years of Working Restrictions for Romanians on the EU Labour Market”, was attended by experts – including senior politicians, trade union officials and academics – and followed an investigation by Sorana Stanescu that won the top prize in the BFJE 2012.

”We believe the right of free movement of workers across all of Europe is extremely important for the future economic development and competitiveness of the European Union,” Luminita Odobescu, a Romanian government official, told the conference.

Eight EU countries currently keep labour markets fully or partially closed to Romanians, but the restrictions have to be lifted starting January 1, 2014.

In recent weeks, British newspapers and political parties have expressed concern about the numbers of incomers expected to come to the UK.

Forecasts published by MigrationWatch, a think tank that supports tight control of migration, suggest around 50,000 migrants from Bulgaria and Romania could head every year to the UK when the remaining labour restrictions end.

Romanian experts said fears of large-scale Romanian immigration to the UK were unfounded.

"Our studies show that only 15 per cent of Romanians are very interested in getting a job abroad, while 45 per cent are not interested at all. And their favourite destinations are Germany and Italy, not the UK”, sociologist Dumitru Sandu said, presenting a study about perceptions and attitudes of Romanians regarding working abroad. 

Sandu added the number of people interested in working in the UK would likely be in the low tens of thousands, possibly as low as 10,000 a year, and nothing like the hundreds of thousands of Poles who came to the UK after Poland joined the EU in 2004.

Sean Bamford, a British trade union expert on migration policy, stressed the importance of workers' right to travel across Europe.

"Denial of access to the labour market is unworkable, leading to an expansion of the informal economy, bogus self-employment, undercutting and exploitation,” Bamford said.

According to UK statistics, some 57,000 Bulgarians and 79,000 Romanians are already resident in Britain.

The current curbs on Romanian and Bulgarian migration include a so-called accession worker card that requires employers to apply for a work permit on the migrant's behalf. Penalties are imposed on employers who hire nationals without the cards.

Six different types of permits exist, depending on the type of work allocated, with more relaxed criteria for high-skilled professionals.

Other restrictions are age-based. Romanians who land a job in the UK's food manufacturing sector, for instance, must be between 18 and 30. Students are also limited to working 20 hours a week.

About 3 million Romanians live and work legally abroad, mainly in Spain, Italy and Germany. Many moved there after Romania joined the European Union in 2007, taking modestly paid jobs.

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