Bulgarians and Romanians can now come to work in Britain—but they won’tby Jonathan Portes / January 23, 2014 / Leave a comment
© AP PHOTO/VADIM GHIRDA The free movement of labour is one of the four freedoms of the European Union—inseparable from the free movement of capital, goods and services.
Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, and their citizens immediately gained the right to travel and settle anywhere in the EU; however, most EU countries, including the UK, restricted access to their labour markets. In the UK, for example, Romanian and Bulgarian migrants had to apply for an “accession worker card” to be eligible for employment, and there were restrictions on the number of low-skilled migrants allowed to work in certain sectors. These provisions expired at the beginning of 2014. Bulgarian and Romanian nationals now have unrestricted access to EU labour markets, including the UK. They may work here just as other EU citizens can, and are entitled to welfare and NHS care.
EU countries set different limits, taking into account their own labour markets. The table below shows when EU countries admitted workers from Romania and Bulgaria and from the Central and Eastern European countries that joined in 2004: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Migration from new member countries depends not just on what restrictions individual countries impose, but what other EU countries do. The UK experience in 2004 shows this clearly. The UK was one of only three countries to open its labour market immediately to arrivals from Central and Eastern Europe. The result was a redirection of migration flows from traditional destinations, such as Germany, towards the UK and Ireland. By contrast, in 2014, many countries have already opened their labour markets to Romanian and Bulgarian workers, so it is unlikely that the UK will suddenly witness a massive influx of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens.
The main destinations for Bulgarian and Romanian workers have been Italy and Spain; this pattern has remained broadly unchanged for some time. Spain and Italy were the main destinations for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals not only after the latter two countries joined the EU in 2007, but even before accession. Since the beginning of the 2000s more than half of migrating Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have chosen either Spain or Italy as their main destination, and in 2009, 75 per cent…