Contrary to some predictions, it appears the United Kingdom will not be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of immigrants next year, as a new poll has allayed fears of a massive influx of Romanians and Bulgarians.
The European Union plans to relax restrictions on immigrants from member countries beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Some British politicians feared the UK, which enjoys a stronger economy than most of Europe, could be a prime destination for migrants seeking to flee Bulgaria and Romania, which have the highest poverty rates in the EU.
British society would be indeed ill-prepared to absorb a big wave of immigration. The country’s gross domestic product contracted in the last quarter of 2012 and is now at risk of a triple-dip recession, pending GDP figures to be released on Thursday. About 2.56 million British citizens cannot find work; the most recent figures put the unemployment rate at 7.9 percent. Housing shortages have grown serious in recent months. Some Brits fear that easing access for foreign workers would only worsen the situation.
British politicians have predicted that hundreds of thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals could relocate to the UK in 2014, but diplomats from both countries played down that figure. Romanian Ambassador Ion Jinga said he expected 25,000 Romanians -- at most -- to make the move, according to the Guardian, while the Bulgarian ambassador predicted that a maximum of 10,000 of his countrymen and women would so the same.
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To test the varying claims, the BBC teamed up with Gallup Romania and the Vitosha Research in Bulgaria to get a sense of immigration ambitions in both countries.
The surveys found that only 1 percent of respondents in Romania were actively seeking work in the UK for either 2013 or 2014, as were 4.2 percent of Bulgarians surveyed. The questions measured only intent; actual migration figures are expected to be much lower.
Furthermore, only 4.6 percent of Romanians named the UK as their first choice for relocation among EU countries, as did 9.3 percent of Bulgarians. This is in line with observable trends -- Spain and Italy have been far more popular destinations for Romanian and Bulgarian migrants in recent years.
This may come as good news for politicians like the Conservative Party’s Iain Duncan Smith, who has been among the loudest voices calling for restrictions to be placed on foreign nationals relocating to the UK.
“There is somewhat of a crisis over this,” he said last month, according to the UK Press Association, adding that he was fighting to tighten restrictions on migrants seeking residency and benefits.
But in accordance with EU policies, any restrictions on Romanian, Bulgarian or other foreign workers would have to be imposed on British citizens as well, since all member states of the EU are meant to operate under equal rules as of 2014.