The prospect of Bulgaria and Romania acceding to the European Union later this year has triggered a divisive debate.
18 January 2013
Think-tanks clash on UK immigration estimates
Two of the country's best known think-tanks on public policy issues have clashed on one's estimates of UK immigration figures when Bulgaria and Romania accedes to the EU.
The two Eastern Europeans nations are due to accede to the European Union later on this year; as full member states, citizens will have access to the Free Movement directive which allows them to live and work in any other member state without the need for a visa. The potential impact this could have on UK immigration rates has raised considerable concern from many different corners.
The last time a similar event happened - when other Eastern European states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia acceded to the EU in 2004 - the then-Labour government predicted less than 15,000 a year would move to the UK. However, figures quickly surpassed that, peaking at over 250,000; levels the current coalition Government are only now beginning to reduce.
The prospect of a further two Eastern European countries joining the EU has ignited a fierce debate among advocates for stronger UK immigration controls and those who support stronger integration within the EU.
The Labour Party have since admitted their immigration stance during their time in government was wrong, with Labour Leader Ed Miliband saying they were not 'sufficiently alive to people's concerns once people had come into this country'. The current Conservative-led coalition Government is keen to avoid making the same mistakes.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was due to release official Government estimates of the numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians the UK could expect later this year but neglected to do so, saying he did not want to start a 'scare story' with inaccurate figures. His decision was supported by David Cameron.
However, the lack of official figures has spurred independent observers into action. Right-leaning think-tank Migration Watch UK which advocates tougher immigration controls published its own figures this week predicting that 50,000 people a year would move to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania resulting 'significant consequences' for the housing and job markets.
"It is not good enough to duck making an estimate of immigration from Romania and Bulgarian," said Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the think-tank.
"It is likely to be on a scale that will have significant consequences for housing and public services. It will also add further to the competition which young British workers already face.
"We have therefore produced our own estimate as a contribution to an important debate which must include the ease with which migrants to the UK can currently access the welfare state."
Migration Watch UK's study analysed migration patterns from other EU countries as well as the number of Bulgarians and Romanians already in the UK.
Yet Sarah Mulley of the left-leaning think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says Migration Watch UK's numbers 'look high' and cited the differences between Bulgaria and Romania's accession with those countries which acceded in 2004.
"The UK is opening access to its labour markets along with the rest of Europe and the process of opening up to Bulgaria and Romania has been a gradual one, in contrast with 2004 when the UK was the only large EU country to open its labour market and when borders and labour market access were opened at the same time," said Ms Mulley.
"So it would be very surprising if net migration from Bulgaria and Romania was on the scale predicted by Migration Watch."
Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says it is unlikely that the Government will not introduce measures to limit immigration when the two countries accede.
"The Labour government introduced temporary curbs on Bulgarians and Romanians in 2005 and the current Government is working much harder to bring immigration under control," said Ms Murdock.
"Their reluctance to release official estimates shows they want to avoid the same mistakes as their predecessors."
The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.