Change in EU migrant law stirs xenophobia

The lifting of curbs on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants by nine European Union countries raises fears of an influx.

Last updated: 22 Dec 2013 09:51
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Restrictions on hiring workers from Romania and Bulgaria were imposed in 2007 [Reuters]

Fears that Eastern European workers will flood the EU labour market are unfounded, experts say, as nine European countries are set to lift all remaining curbs on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania on January 1.

The decision to remove the restrictions in countries including Germany, Britain, France and the Netherlands raised fears that an influx of workers would overwhelm social security systems and schools, while these countries are still recovering from recession.

However, employment agencies from Romania, as well as surveys and anecdotal evidence from the poorest EU states, suggested that any new arrivals will slowly trickle in.

"The ones who wanted to leave have already left," Adriana Lorga, director of the employment agency in Giurgiu, a deprived town in southern Romania, told AFP news agency.

But the issue of lifting restrictions is still a sensitive one in many EU countries.

The British government recently rushed through legislation that will restrict EU migrants from claiming unemployment handouts as the country braces for what it estimates to be 30,000 to 70,000 Bulgarian and Romanian migrants per year.

"Britain will not be invaded by Romanians and Bulgarians", Simina, a student at the Bucharest University of Economics and Cybernetics, told AFP news agency.

"We would go to Western Europe to study but we do not want to settle there, especially as we see the discriminating comments against us," she said.

Rising xenophobia

Some British media outlets have labelled migrants from the two countries as unskilled or potential "benefit tourists". And British police have sent a team to Romania to try to discourage jobless Romanians from coming to Britain.

Romanians already living in England are upset by negative stereotypes that have risen from the anticipated January 1 lifting of work restrictions.

"Most of the Romanian people here in London or in England don't really understand why they are being victimised," said Nicolae Ratiu, treasurer of London's Romanian cultural centre.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 and people from those two countries can already work without permits, and in any sector, in 17 EU countries.

The majority of people who chose to leave Bulgaria and Romania to settle elsewhere in the EU have gone to Spain and Italy where they mainly work in construction, agriculture and jobs that involve caring for the elderly and people with disabilities.


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