As campaigners warn of the arrival of large numbers of unskilled workers after 1 January 2014, the Ambassador of Romania, Dr Ion Jinga, clarifies some common misunderstandings regarding Romanian immigration into the UK
Romania is sometimes misunderstood in Western Europe. I have lived abroad for many years, and have seen that people’s first impressions about my country come from what they read in newspapers or see on TV, which is generally limited and often marked by old stereotypes. Today, Romania is a modern democracy, fully engaged in shaping its future as a member of the European Union and NATO. More than ever, I think the British public needs to discover Romania from a different perspective, not in terms of statistics or migration flows.
Since the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, Romanians have been rediscovering themselves. For the past 23 years, they have learnt about democracy and recreated their country from scratch, incorporating Romania’s traditions, ancestors, nature and history into modern life. Between the two World Wars, Romania was a regional power with a strong currency, gold deposits and a ruling elite educated in London, Paris and Berlin. Had our country not experienced 42 years of Communism, today Romania would have been at the same level of prosperity as the UK, France or Germany.
During my mandate in the UK, I have had the opportunity to discover Britain’s true values: national pride, an incredibly rich history, cultural diversity and high moral standards. So in the context of the current debate on migration, it comes as a great surprise to see how attitudes towards Romania have become so easily formed by ungrounded suppositions and biased opinions. I believe the British public deserves accurate information on this subject.
On 1 January 2014, restrictions on the labour market will be lifted for Romanians and Bulgarians. I fully understand that immigration is a legitimate concern in the UK and that the British public needs to know what will happen after this date. While fully comprehending the sensitivity of this subject – and bearing in mind the UK’s past experience of inaccurate forecasts on migration from Europe – there are some facts about the Romanian presence in the UK which should be taken into consideration, because it might dissipate certain fears.
Some newspapers have indicated that 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians will invade Britain next January. This presupposes that the entire population of Romania (19 million) and Bulgaria (10 million), along with newborn babies and pensioners, will pack their luggage and come to the UK. Beyond the temptation to smile at such an assertion, I believe that lifting restrictions will not bring a ‘boom,’ ‘tsunami,’ or even a little ‘storm’ of Romanians to British shores, as the British press has suggested.
Let me explain. As of 1 January 2007, Romanian citizens have been free to exercise their right to free movement. The freedom of movement of people, including filling a job in another Member State, is a fundamental principle assumed by all EU Member States. (There are exceptions, however, that are temporarily allowed under strict conditions laid down by the Accession Treaties.)
All evidence suggests that Britain is not a preferred destination for Romanian migration. In fact, the Romanian community in the UK is significantly smaller than in other EU member states. Most Romanians who have decided to work abroad have chosen countries with closer linguistic and cultural links, like Spain and Italy.
So taking into account the near-exhaustion of Romania’s potential to ‘export’ workers and the fact that Romanians who wanted to leave their country to work in other Member States have already done so in the past six years, lifting restrictions on 1 January 2014 is unlikely to lead to a massive increase in the number of Romanians coming to the UK. Also, a substantially shrinking younger generation means that the pool of potentially mobile workers is getting smaller and is likely to act as a brake on geographic labour mobility within the EU as a whole.
A report released by the UK Office for National Statistics in January 2013 demonstrates that Romanian is the first language of 68,000 people in England and Wales. Although small in number, I should clarify that the Romanian community in the UK is characterised by a high proportion of specialists and includes an increasing number of students. Many Romanians work in occupations where there is a shortage of skilled workers, such as the health and social care sectors, while thousands of other highly skilled Romanians work at universities, run their own business, are employed in the performing arts, financial, IT or trade sectors.
To a large extent, Romanian migration to the UK is determined by the increasing market interconnection in the EU and their presence here is mainly the result of the demand of the British market. By exercising their right to work in the UK, Romanian workers are net contributors to the social security and revenue systems. More than 70 per cent of Romanians who come to the UK are aged 18-35, with few requiring healthcare or claiming social assistance. In short, the overwhelming majority of the Romanian community is well integrated into the British economy and society. Therefore, contrary to reports, Romanians are not a menace to the British economy and society. Indeed, they can act as a bridge between the two countries.
Romania and the UK enjoy excellent bilateral relations, enhanced in recent years by a Strategic Partnership signed in 2003. For the past 10 years, our commercial exchanges have been on the increase, reaching almost €3 billion in 2012, and currently over 4,600 British companies are present on the Romanian market. The Romanian government is actively involved in promoting bilateral trade and investments, notably in infrastructure, energy, tourism and new technologies – all domains in which the UK’s longstanding experience is not only a source of inspiration but also an incentive for developing joint projects.
I believe in our European destiny, in our shared needs and our sense of common goals. I believe in the partnership between Romania and the UK. Deepening and strengthening our bilateral relationship has been a top priority for me. I have spent five wonderful years in London as Romania’s Ambassador in the UK and I dare say that I understand, respect and love Britain. In Romania we have a strong feeling of sympathy and respect for Britons and I expect my Romanian compatriots to enjoy the same sympathy and respect in return.