The removal of work restrictions at the end of the year has not yet had an impact on numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians planning to move to the UK or the wider EU, surveys commissioned by BBC Newsnight suggest.
The surveys indicate that most Romanians and Bulgarians would only come to the UK with a firm offer of work, which suggests that there won’t be a wave of people coming to the UK looking for work, as there was in 2004 with the enlargement of the EU.
The surveys were face to face, and designed to distinguish between vague intention and concrete plans.
In a report for Newsnight, tonight at 10.30pm on BBC Two, reporter Sanchia Berg explains that in Romania the people surveyed who are most interested in coming to the UK tend to be better educated and better off than the average Romanian. They’re more likely to be employed. The biggest group is aged 25-44.
The Bulgarians by contrast are more likely to be younger, they’re more likely to be unemployed, or students, than the average respondent, and more likely to struggle financially.
However, when asked about the possibility of the UK government restricting benefits to Romanians and Bulgarians – before David Cameron announced the benefit changes last month – over 70% of the 90 Romanians intending to move to Britain said it would affect their decision to some extent. Most of the 138 Bulgarians said it would not affect their decision.
Mariana Campeanu, the Romanian Minister for Labour told Newsnight that she was very surprised at the Romanian response to this question.
“There is a certain percentage who may be influenced by the idea that they may not be able to claim benefits when they’re in difficulty. This is not the purpose of the changes in legislation in the UK as I understand it – it’s intended to prevent abuses and ensure fairness and equality…”
She told Newsnight that Romania was concerned about benefit fraud, and had discussed closer co-operation with the British government.
Romania and Bulgaria are amongst the poorest countries in Europe. People from there have been free to live in the UK since the countries joined the EU in 2007 but they have had to apply for a work permit, which are limited, be self-employed or work in specific jobs such as domestic servants or seasonal agricultural work.
Under EU rules, these restrictions will come to an end at the beginning of 2014 and Romanian and Bulgarian migrants will have the same rights to live and work in the UK as those of other EU countries.
In response to this, Newsnight commissioned surveys by Gallup Romania and Vitosha in Bulgaria of over 1,000 people in each country, in all regions. The surveys were conducted face to face in March and April 2013.
The survey asked people whether they intended to move to the UK in 2013 or next year in 2014 when the work restrictions are lifted. The survey suggested that in fact more people from both countries who planned to leave, said they intended to do so this year, rather than in 2014.
Some 4.6% of Romanians and 9.3% of Bulgarians picked the UK as their first choice country to move to either in 2013 or 2014. When people were asked directly about whether they would consider the UK as a destination, these numbers rose to 8.2% for Romanians and 13.6% for Bulgarians.
To get a clearer idea of how many people may come to the UK, they were then asked whether they had made any concrete plans to move. These plans included searching for somewhere to live and to work.
The number of positive responses fell significantly though more Bulgarians than Romanians were making concrete plans. Just 1.2% of Bulgarians and 0.4% of Romanians said they had begun to look for accommodation. The numbers were similarly small for those who had started looking for a job. Some 2.8% of Bulgarians had started to look for a job with a recruitment agency and 0.3% of Romanians. 1.4% of Bulgarians and 0.7% of Romanians had begun to look for work without the aid of a recruitment agency.
Peter Flade at Gallup UK told Newsnight he’s not surprised at the difference between those aspiring to come to the UK and those making real plans. “Forty-two million people around the world say they’d like to come to the UK. Of those, we’re not getting 42 million, it’s a fraction of that. So I think you’re seeing the same thing with Romania.”
The Romanian survey also revealed that, despite speculation in the press about Roma people moving to Britain, none of the Roma people surveyed were planning to move to the UK, though this could be an effect of the small sample size. The Bulgarian survey showed that 10% of those planning to move to the UK were Roma compared with 5% of the population in Bulgaria as a whole being Roma – again the sample size is therefore low.
Newsnight reporter, Sanchia Berg commented on the findings: “Several elements stand out from these surveys. First, that when you ask people if they intend to seek work in Britain, many people say ‘yes’ but when you ask about concrete plans the numbers fall significantly.
"Second, there’s no sign for the moment that many people are waiting for the end of year when restrictions are lifted. And thirdly, this seems to be a more considered migration – in prospect at least – than the mass movement of people from Poland and other accession countries in 2004. But this is a survey, a snapshot of opinion at a moment in time and views can change.”
Sanchia Berg’s full report and a studio discussion will be shown on tonight’s Newsnight, presented by Kirsty Wark at 10.30pm on BBC Two.