03/02/2013 08:20 GMT | Updated 04/02/2013 03:12 GMT

Romanian, Bulgarian Immigrants Won't Pick Britain, Ministers Say

Britain is not first choice for Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants, who would rather go to other European countries when an immigration ban is relaxed at the beginning of next year, leading politicians from the two countries have said.

Bulgarian foreign minister Nikolay Mladenov said many of his compatriots would much rather travel to Germany, Spain and Italy, as his country has stronger business links with those countries.

And he also spoke of fears that thousands of immigrants descending on the UK could "dampen" relations with Bulgaria.


A Romanian Roma woman expelled from France holds a baby at Bucharest airport

Romanian ambassador to the UK Dr Ion Jinga said many immigrants had already by-passed the restrictions by declaring themselves self-employed and finding jobs in sectors such as construction.

The two men were interviewed by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News amid fears that when the ban preventing immigrants from the two countries working in the UK comes to an end at the beginning of next year, thousands will arrive and look for jobs.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007 but under "transitional arrangements" workers from the two countries were prevented from travelling to the UK.

Mladenov said the relaxing of the restrictions would not lead to a flood of immigrants coming here.

He said: "I do not expect the UK to be overwhelmed by a wave of our nationals coming over seeking employment for a number of reasons.

"When we look at the experience of other countries over the last seven years, this has not happened and there is no reason to believe that this would happen in the UK in the January of next year.

"We have not seen since Bulgaria's accession to the European Union mass waves of Bulgarians moving across Europe and seeking illegal rights or illegal immigration to other countries.

"We had some issues in the first days after accession but in a number of cases we acted very swiftly and they were addressed, and so there were no lasting concerns.

"The UK would not be the primary country of choice for many people to go and work. Our economy is mostly connected to the German economy.

"We have a large number of companies working in places like Spain and Italy, where we have long-standing traditions and where the labour market had opened to Bulgarians quite some time ago.

"I really don't believe that there is a need to have these fearful debates that are happening.

"On the contrary, I think people in the United Kingdom, given your history, must understand that immigration has always been beneficial to your economy, just as Britain's membership of the European Union has been beneficial to not only jobs creation but prosperity in your country."

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Dr Jinga said fears that many Romanians would come to the UK was a "false problem".

He said: "Romanians' immigration pattern is not towards the UK but towards Spain, Italy and France, for instance because of the language proximity, Romanian being a Latin language.

"We have one million Romanians already living and working in Spain, one million in Italy, probably half a million in France."

He added: "Those Romanians who have wanted to come to Britain, they have already done it.

"There are some restrictions for some areas of activities but no visa requirements, so those who have wanted to come, they have done it.

"It is always a possibility to find a job, even if it is under restrictions, and that solution is to declare yourself self-employed, and many Romanians have done so. For instance in the construction sector, there are many Romanians here and that is why your Olympic village was built up last year."