11 December 2006
However, some politicians are voicing concerns that United Kingdom public services such as schools and housing are feeling the pressure of immigration caused by increased numbers of Eastern European immigrants, according to Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.
The issue is of concern as Romania and Bulgaria prepare to join the European Union on the first of the New Year. Tougher rules are being considered, and some have already been implemented.
Mr. Byrne refuses to estimate the amount of expected immigrants, believing it would be "very unwise to predict future flows". Past attempts to predict the amount of immigration resulted in massive underestimates.
Infamously, the UK officially estimated approximately 15,000 immigrants entering from the EU-25 accession States after May 2004. Today it is estimated that over 600,000, both legal and illegal, have actually entered. It should be noted that official numbers also show 380,000 people leaving Britain during 2005.
However, the Home Office is preparing itself to deal with attempts to abuse the rules. Home Secretary John Reid recently introduced a new set of rules to help enforce the 20,000 person cap for migrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria. It has been reported elsewhere that quotas of 20,000 and 10,000 have been set for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, respectively.
On 24 October, Mr Reid issued a Ministerial Statement for the Home Office citing a number of statistics related to immigrants and the use of public social services.
"There have also been some transitional impacts from the last round of Accession [the 2004 EU-25 expansion]. A small number of schools have seen a significant increase in admissions. Some local authorities have reported problems of overcrowding in private housing. There have been cost pressures on English language training."
From 01 January 2007 the government will be "phasing out all low-skilled migration schemes for workers from outside the EU".
"Places on the two low-skilled migration schemes for non-EU workers (the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme and the Sectors Based Scheme which between them currently have 19,750 places) will now be restricted to nationals from Romania and Bulgaria with this cap maintained at its present level".
Mr. Byrne asserts that it good not to enforce similar rules on the accession of the eight former Soviet Bloc countries in 2004 because they had assisted so much in the growth of the UK's economy.
However, Mr. Byrne acknowledges evidence of "specific and isolated pressures" which entail a more cautious approach to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. He cites examples such as schools struggling to cope with an influx of children from new families who emigrated from the previous 8 accession states and overcrowding in public housing.
The government notes that overall pressure on social services has not been as severe as is sometimes portrayed in localised, specific cases. Steps are being taken to identify and assist localities that have been overwhelmed.
Under pressure from MPs, Mr Byrne would not provide details about the impact on housing, saying it would be something the Department for Communities and Local Government would consider "over the next few months". Tory David Heathcoat-Amory said the Government would not be able to control the amount of Romanians and Bulgarians who would come to Britain and use public services.
John Reid's Ministerial Statement points out that relative to the total immigration numbers, very few of the new immigrants have brought in dependents. Less than 1% have attempted to claim out of work benefits, while the vast majority have paid billions of pounds in taxes into the British treasury.
"You are trying to restrict immigration from Bulgaria and Romania by the sole device of trying to get the law-abiding workforce to register under your scheme," Mr Heathcoat-Amory said. "You are never going to prevent them coming over here ... and working in the informal black economy, as happens all over Europe."
Mr. Byrne tried to allay some of the concerns about impact on the UK by saying they were not trying to limit the amount of immigrants.
"It's an error to say that we are trying to manage migration in this way, because ultimately people from Bulgaria and Romania do have the right of free movement to this country," he said. "That's just a deal we signed up to when we signed the accession treaty. What we can do is exercise our derogation controlling access to the labour market. That does have knock-on implications for access to benefits."
Related:• New rules for UK permanent residence on 2 April 2007