More than 100,000 Romanians have applied to work in the UK over the last year, at least half of whom are thought to have already been resident in the country. Applications from Bulgaria also doubled during the last twelve months, the Daily Mail has reported.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that, since autumn last year, 103,900 Romanians applied for a National Insurance number – a legal requirement for those seeking legitimate work in the UK. Applications were up by 468 percent on the previous year.
And 31,500 Bulgarians applied for an NI number in the same period, more than double the number of applications received during the previous 12 months.
Romania and Bulgaria both joined the European Union in 2007, but, fearing a repeat of an influx of migrants as seen when Poland first joined the EU, many countries, including Britain, imposed a seven year ban on free movement for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals. Those restrictions ran out on the 1st January this year, prompting fears that another influx would occur.
On New Year’s Day MPs Mark Reckless and Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee travelled to Luton airport to welcome new immigrants arriving from Romania.
Amongst those who arrived was 39 year old Dida Dimitrov from Sofia, who flew in to join her husband, Dimi, who had already been working in the UK for five years. She said “I come here to be with my husband. I have been on holiday here but now it is to stay. I will get a job maybe as a cleaner at first.”
Her husband Dimi added “I have been here for five years. I work as a builder. I have a few friends from Bulgaria who have been here a few years. We come to work that is all.”
Also arriving from Sophia was 20 year old Nadia Geozgivea. She said “This is my first time here. I have come over to be with my boyfriend. He lives here. He is from Pakistan. I want to get a job as a cleaner.”
After chatting to a number of people who had travelled in that morning, Vaz told the Telegraph “Just on the conversations we’ve had with people who have come here, a lot of them are returning people, they already work in Britain and they’re coming back after a holiday so they’re not people coming here for the first time.
“We’ve seen no evidence of people who have rushed out and bought tickets in order to arrive because it’s the 1st of January. We’d be surprised if they did so, this is after all only a snapshot.”
His “snapshot” is borne out by the new figures. Sarah Crofts from the Office for National Statistics said that half of those who had applied for an NI number were “people who had been in the UK for a year or longer”, suggesting that thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians had already travelled to the UK to work illegally in the black economy.
In the run up to the European elections last May, the Office for National Statistics released figures in its Labour Force Survey suggesting that the number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in Britain had fallen by 4,000 in three months, although it conceded that the overall trend was an increase. Nonetheless, the figures prompted calls from Vaz and others for the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, to apologise for “scaremongering” on Romanian and Bulgarian immigration. Ukip had been predicting that the “floodgates would open”.
Referring to his airport visit, Vaz said “The committee viewed for itself how the supposed flood of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria was little more than a trickle. It would appear now that many may have actually left the UK. Those, including UKIP, who promised the end of the world on January 1, now owe the public and those from Romania and Bulgaria a full apology.”
However the survey on which they based their criticism is a small snapshot of trends. In contrast, National Insurance applications provide an accurate count of individuals actually planning to work in the UK.