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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Q&A: Romanian and Bulgarian workers
Seller of Bulgarian flags
Bulgaria: Set to join the EU
How will Bulgaria and Romania joining the European Union affect the UK and its policy of allowing in migrant workers?

What is happening with Romania and Bulgaria?

The European Union is allowing both countries to join the club, but under strict conditions.

If the two nations meet the requirements, they will gain all the benefits of membership, principally access to the continent-wide free market.

This means that like any other EU member, including the UK, they have access to trade freely with the other nations - and their citizens gain the right to move in the world's largest cross-border job market.

The UK has experienced some of the most dramatic movement in this market with the arrival since May 2004 of hundreds of thousands of Eastern European workers. The UK government says it will now restrict the rights of Bulgarians and Romanians to work in the country.

What are those restrictions?

Home Secretary John Reid has said that food processing and agriculture will be the only sectors initially opened to low-skilled migrant workers from both of the countries. There will be 20,000 places under this scheme.

Other avenues will still be available, such as entry under with a specific work permit or through a programme for highly-skilled migrants. If someone wants to come to the UK and set up in business, they will be allowed to do so, the principle being the risk is all their own but the benefit is partly Britain's. Romanian and Bulgarians who come as students will also be allowed to work part-time.

These restrictions may only last seven years - after which the new EU members will have the same right of movement as any other citizen.

Are Bulgarian and Romanian workers in the UK already?

Yes. The UK has a special agreement with both countries that allows workers to enter the UK if they are self-employed or able to set up in business and, critically, prove they will not be a drain on public funds. In practice this means anyone from an entrepreneur to a self-employed roofer can seek work.

However, the scheme remains controversial. Ministers suspended the scheme in 2004 after allegations that it was not properly managed.

The UK government insists that since its relaunch with a four-point entry test, it has become a credible part of the immigration system.

What do we know about the numbers?

There has long been a small community from both countries in the UK, perhaps numbering less than 20,000 in total.

Graph showing wealth of Bulgaria and Romania
According to official figures, approximately 7,100 Romanian and Bulgarian workers applied to enter Britain between late 2004 and June 2006. Just 1,000 of those candidates were accepted.

A further 6,000 of those already in the UK were allowed to stay for longer while some 2,300 have been resident here long enough - typically five years - to be given the right to settle permanently.

However, the true figure may be higher with speculation among some in the Romanian community that there could be 40,000 of their countrymen in the UK.

So how will things change when Bulgarian and Romania join?

Nobody knows - and the UK government is being cautious. An estimated 600,000 Eastern European workers have come to the UK since 2004 - although that does not mean that they are all still here as the UK does not currently count who leaves.

Whether we will see similar movements of workers from these two new nations is unclear.

However, Bulgaria is not convinced workers will come to the UK at all. It says that favoured nations for its migrant workers tend to be Germany, Italy and Spain among others. Romanian workers tend to go to Spain and Italy because the languages are related to their own.

So the UK has changed its position on Eastern European workers?

Yes. The UK was one of the few countries to allow unfettered access to its Labour market to new Eastern European member states in 2004. To date an estimated 600,000 workers have come to the UK.

While employers tend to say Eastern European workers have been good for the economy, there are concerns, particularly among MPs, the media and some local authorities, about how well their integration has been handled with unanswered questions over how their arrival changes communities.

The government's move to restrict access - while at the same time promising more money to help people integrate - signals that they recognise people have concerns. However, critics say that the measures won't add up and will only add to the government's woes over immigration.




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