Panic over? Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta tells Channel 4 News the UK is not a “preferred destination” for Romanian emigrants as a report suggests fears of an UK immigration boom are misplaced.
The UK government was apparently so spooked by a potential flood of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants next year, when immigration rules are relaxed, that it was considering adverts to put people off.
“Don’t come to the UK – it’s rainy, we love reality TV and we’re in the middle of a really quite serious recession. Trust us, the streets aren’t paved with gold” – that was the message.
UKip leader Nigel Farage warned that the entire combined population of Romania and Bulgaria – 29 million people – would have the right to unrestricted access to Britain’s benefits system.
In fact, the tone of the debate grew so hysterical that the European human rights watchdog accused Britain of “unacceptable” rhetoric.
But it looks like there was no need for such heightened concern. A report commissioned by the Foreign Office suggests that most potential Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants don’t much fancy the UK anyway.
Those who wanted to migrate to the United Kingdom have already done it. Romanian PM Victor Ponta
The report, by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, found that there was “little evidence” to suggest there would be any kind of influx of immigrants when the rules are relaxed at the end of 2013.
“Evidence suggests that the UK is not a strongly favoured location for those interested in migrating,” the study said. “There is little firm evidence to suggest that flows will therefore increase substantially once transitional controls are lifted.”
In response, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta told Channel 4 News the study supported what he and other leading Romanian and Bulgarian figures had been saying for months.
“The study has just confirmed, in my opinion, the Romanian government’s assessments, publicly expressed on several occasions – including my interviews in the British media – that the United Kingdom is not among the preferred destinations for Romanians, and no massive flows of Romanians will be recorded after the lifting of the working restrictions at the beginning of next year,” he said.
“Those who wanted to migrate to the United Kingdom have already done it.”
The Potential Impacts on UK of Future Migration from Bulgaria and Romania report shies away from offering any fixed estimates or indeed any numbers at all for how many immigrants might come – but is fairly unequivocal in its general conclusion: not many.
While the UK’s relative economic strength compared to Romania and Bulgaria might be appealing, the report suggests that most migrants would be more likely to continue moving to countries like Spain and Italy, where the language is similar and there are already support and social networks in place for Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants.
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At the moment, the UK is not a “favoured destination” for Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, and this is unlikely to change regardless of the restrictions, the report concluded. Surveys in both countries also support this finding.
Romania’s Mr Ponta said there had already been a wave of Romanian emigration when it joined the European Union in 2007. Almost 3m Romanians left the country then to live and work abroad, mainly in Italy and Spain.
“We believe Romanian emigration has already reached its limits. Furthermore, the Romanian government started to implement policies and measures for bringing the Romanian workers back home,” he told Channel 4 News.
“It is worth mentioning that the profile of the Romanians going to the UK, as revealed by the study, leads to the conclusion that the effects on the British social assistance system are quite limited.”
We believe Romanian emigration has already reached its limits. Romanian PM Victor Ponta
There are currently around 26,000 Bulgarians and 80,000 Romanians in the UK – far less than in either Italy or Spain – and also much lower than the numbers of other EU migrants already in the UK. It’s also a tiny proportion of the populations of the two countries – 7m in Bulgaria and 22m in Romania.
If many more migrants do come to the UK, they are likely to be young, keen for employment, and only looking for a temporary stay, the report suggested.
In response to the report, the minister for Europe David Lidington said: “This report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research is a welcome contribution to the debate on migration.
“The report will help to shape this government’s work to build an immigration system which works in the national interest – supporting the UK economy by continuing to attract the brightest and the best global talent, at the same time as protecting our public services and ensuring our welfare system is not open to abuse. Our tough new rules are already taking effect with overall net migration falling by almost one third since 2010.”
Romania's PR mission
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta is on a bit of a mission to correct impressions of his country. Here, he tells Channel 4 News some things most people don't know about Romania - including the many reasons why he thinks its inhabitants would rather stay put than emigrate.
Employment: Romania has an unemployment rate twice lower than many euro area countries, at 6.6 per cent.
Economic growth: Romania has not entered recession, growing by 0.3 per cent in 2012 [although it was in recession as recently as 2010].
Romanian language: The Romanian language was born from the interplay of the languages spoken by two populations, Dacia and Rome - the dominant being the Latin side. It is a phenomenon that occurred in other parts of Europe too - Italy, France, Portugal, Spain - hence the Latin nature shared with Romanian.
Romanian food: There is no such "favourite dish", however there is a culture of meat dishes in Romania - usually pork, chicken and lamb dishes. Beyond that, there is an important influence of the countries in the area on Romanian cuisine. We took over borscht from Russia, moussaka from Greece...
Romanian culture: Nea Marin Miliardar (Uncle Marin, the Billionaire) is the most popular Romanian film of al time. Romania has a lot of internationally renowned cultural personalities, such as Mircea Eliade, Eugen Ionescu...Romanian music is also well represented. Unfortunately Romanian culture was very much affected during communism, when cultural personalities of great value had to censure or even stop their activity. Now, there is a new wave of Romanian culture, whose standard-bearer is represented by young voices.
Romanian sport: Romania may boast several top athletes - gymnast Nadia Comaneci, tennis wizard Ilie Nastase, footballer Dan Petrescu.
Romanian royals: The royal house of Romania is of German origin - Hohenzollern Sigmaringen - is closely related to the royal house of Britain. Ex-King Michael of Romania is a cousin of the Queen and Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, is an admirer of the Romanian countryside. He has several properties in Romania that he visits at least once a year.
Romania's nicknames: In the third decade of the 20th century, Romania was considered the "breadbasket of Europe" because at that time the fertile plans of Baragan, Dobrogea, Lunca Siretului and Transylvania plateau were amongst the most productive cereal areas of Europe. Bucharest was nicknamed "Little Paris".
Romania's dangers: The casinos - fortunately, of the 28 casinos existing before the crisis, only 7 survive today, but enough to attract hundreds of enthusiastic players arriving by charter from the Middle East. The second danger is the beautiful girls who made and still make Bucharest famous.