British newspapers demonised Romanians as "gypsies, tramps and thieves" but insulted Bulgarians far less in the year preceeding the lifting of EU working restrictions.
Romanians were repeatedly associated with criminal wrongdoing by the press, but Bulgarians were not, according to a new report by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory which looked at the coverage between 2012 and 2013.
The analysis encompasses 4,000 articles, letters and comment pieces mentioning Romanians or Bulgarians, a total of more than 2.8 million words.
It found Romanians were lumped together as a "single group" of troublemakers with the vast majority of tabloid newspapers dubbing them members of gangs, criminals, beggars, thieves or squatters.
But the language used to describe Bulgarians was less sweeping, and not linked to a specific social issue. Broadsheets were less likely to demonise the Romanian migrants than tabloids, the report said.
The researchers noted the use of emotive language when it comes to immigration, words like "flood" and "flock" were used regularly in tabloid reports.
The most specific number used by broadsheets was 50,000 – a prediction from MigrationWatch, a pressure group which campaigns for reduced immigration, of how many migrants would be added to the UK population each year for five years following the end of transitional controls.
William Allen, co-author of the report said: “The report is valuable because it provides a comprehensive account of how British national newspapers discussed Romanians and Bulgarians during a key period.
"The language used to describe Romanians – particularly in tabloid newspapers – often mention them alongside criminality and anti-social behaviour, while this was not the case with Bulgarians.”
The newspapers analysed were The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The Sun on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Express, The Sunday Express, The Guardian, The Observer, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, The Independent, Independent on Sunday, Daily Star, Daily Star Sunday and The Financial Times.
The actual figures show that although immigration is up by a significant amount from Romania and Bulgaria, numbers were vastly overestimated.
The number of Romanians and Bulgarians employed between April and June rose nearly 10% compared with the previous three months, the Office for National Statistics revealed on Wednesday.
A total of 153,000 Romanians and Bulgarians were employed in the UK in the quarter, an increase of 9,000 when compared with the last three months of 2013.
The previous batch of data, from January to March 2014, appeared to suggest the predicted surge of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria to Britain had not transpired as the numbers actually dipped over the turn of the year by 4,000 workers.
But Ukip's Nigel Farage predicted there would be 5,000 a week arriving for several years, when the total rise in the numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals was just 7,000 in the first half of the year.
By the end of June, according to Ukip’s forecast on Romanian and Bulgarian migration, the number should have been 130,000 – which was an overestimate by a factor of 20.
But Migration Watch said last week it still expected its prediction to be accurate.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of of the anti-immigration group said: "Once dependents are factored in, it is likely that the increase in population over the whole year 2014 will be between 30,000 and 70,000 as we predicted. Our central estimate of 50,000 remains a very likely outcome."
The predicted "crime wave" was also over-zealous. Following the arrival of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants in January 2014, the number of arrests has barely fluctuated and charges have gone down since the beginning of the year, police figures show.
In the first three months of 2014 the number of Romanians convicted of crimes in the whole of the UK was 1,522, a 15.3% reduction from 1,797 in the same 2013 period, police figures obtained by the Romanian embassy show.
And according to separate Freedom of Information data published on the Metropolitan Police's website, the number of Romanians charged with an offence in London this January dropped 3%, compared to the same month last year.