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Dr Ion Jinga Headshot

Romanians' Migration to the UK: Predictions Versus Reality

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The question of how many Romanians will come to the UK in 2014 was a misguided and misleading topic in 2013. It continues to make headlines, I hope not for a long time. The answer depends on who you ask this question.

UKIP politicians suggested 29million Romanians (and Bulgarians) will invade the British shores. An American think tank predicted 385,000 people will migrate from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK over the next five years. Migration Watch advanced 50,000 persons a year (previously, they have said up to 70,000 a year).

A survey commissioned by the BBC suggested that less than 1% of adult Romanians could look for work in the UK, which in concrete figures gives 15-20,000 people. A report commissioned by the UK government in 2010 estimates 8,000 Romanians will come to Britain in 2014. From 8,000 to 385,000 (not to speak about 29million) it is a huge field open to speculations exploited by tabloid media and xenophobic politicians.

My comments are based only on certified data: with the first flight from Romania on 1 January only two Romanians came to the UK to take advantage of the lifting of border restrictions. According to a Sunday People investigation, airlines and travel companies based in Romania recorded either a decrease or no change in passengers flying to the UK in January 2014 following lifting of restrictions. The Consular department of our Embassy has not registered an increase in the number of services required by Romanian nationals last month, compared to the same period of 2013. And, on 27 January, prime minister David Cameron told BBC Radio 4 that immigration levels from Romania and Bulgaria has been "reasonable" since work restrictions were lifted at the start of the year.

The National Insurance Number (NINO) registrations to adult overseas entering the UK for the period 2012-2013 (fiscal year) show a decrease of 22% for Romanian citizens compared to 2011-2012 (whereas there are increases of 50% Spaniards, 44% Greeks, 43% Portuguese, 36% Hungarians and 35% Italians).

The media shapes public opinion and, as we can see, it is a clear gap between predictions, perception and reality when speaking about the immigration of Romanians to the UK. But, as the Chairman of Frontier Economics and former cabinet secretary under three prime ministers, Gus O'Donnell, pointed out in the Financial Times on 29 January, this is not a new phenomenon: "In 1978 as many as 70% of the public agreed the UK was in danger of "being swamped" by other cultures. That was at a time when net migration was zero. Today about 80% think migration is a problem for Britain, although only 30% think it is a problem in their local area. On average, they believe that about one in three people are migrants (the real figure is closer to one in seven) and overestimate the number of EU migrants claiming unemployment benefits by a factor of six."

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Social and Economic Research and former Cabinet Office chief economist, argues in an article in Huffington Post UK on 21 January that "It is not the case that migrants and British workers are just competing for the same jobs. In 2008, when migration was at its height, the number of unfilled vacancies was the highest ever recorded at 700,000." And a report from Jonathan Wadsworth, member of the Migration Advisory Committee, shows that "there is little evidence of overall adverse effects of immigration on wages and employment for people born in the UK".

I cannot tell how many of my compatriots came to Britain last January, as British statistics will be available only next May. As citizens of the European Union, Romanians are fully entitled to freely travel and find jobs in all 28 EU member States. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills found there were 655,000 vacancies in the UK between March and July 2013. Figures from a Romanian website that hosts more than 200 recruitment agencies shows 10,367 vacancies advertised by British employers on the website last month. But it looks like Romanians are not in a hurry to come.

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