Press ‘scaremongering’ over Romanian and Bulgarian immigration

The British press were today accused of scaremongering over the threat of a new wave of immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, after EU restrictions are lifted today.

Fears that Britain will see a mass influx of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are likely to prove unfounded, it was claimed as airlines reported no sharp increase in those flying to the UK.

"It is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers," the EU employment commissioner Laszlo Ander said in a statement.

He pointed out that Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have long enjoyed unrestricted access to 19 EU states, meaning that most of those wanting to find work elsewhere have already done so.

Ander's comments come as airlines serving Bulgaria and Romania dismissed suggestions that they were being overwhelmed with demands to fly to the UK.

A report in the Daily Mail earlier this week claimed that almost all flights from the two countries to the UK had gone with remaining tickets going for up to £3000.

These reports later proved unfounded, with many cheap tickets still available online. One airline told the independent they had "loads of seats" left for January.

Professor John Salt of the migration research unit at University College London said the number of people expected to leave Bulgaria was actually down on the same period last year.

"For the first three months of 2014 the number of advance air bookings is down on the same period last year which doesn't indicate that there are lots of people who have been making bookings that are ready to come," he told the BBC.

"At the same time none of the carriers flying out of Bulgaria have increased their number of flights for next year and as far as I can gather the low cost airlines have got no indication of an increase in passengers or flights for 2014."

He suggested UK newspapers had been scaremongering over the issue.

"The newspapers tend to shoot from the hip, rather than on the basis of the evidence," he said.

Recruitment agencies in Romania have also reported no rise in those looking to work in the UK.

"Honestly it's still the same," Sergiu Calauz of the Work Experience recrutiment agency said, pointing out that unemployment levels in Romania are actually lower than in the UK.

Romanian officials also dismissed fears they would see an exodus to the UK.

"The UK for now is not even the preferred destination for Romanians," a spokesperson for the Romanian foreign ministry said.

Anti-immigration groups today dismissed these predictions, saying they expected tens of thousands of immigrants to now come to the UK.

Andrew Green of Migration Watch said the UK should expect up to 50,000 immigrants from these countries every year.

He told the Today programme that the number of people coming to the UK would "build up gradually".

He admitted that immigration overall had been a net positive for the UK economy, but claimed the benefit was "not significant".