Exodus From Romania, Bulgaria May Not Be Massive*

Views on BG | January 4, 2014, Saturday // 09:54| Views: | Comments: 1
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from Forbes

by Luiza Olezsczuk

As of January 1, citizens of Bulgaria and Romania, who joined the European Union in 2007, are officially allowed to work in all of the European Union, including the United Kingdom and eight other western E.U. nations, which initially barred their job markets from the new members. Especially in the U.K. there is fear of a massive influx of new immigrants, but such fears are unjustified, say most experts.

Upon joining the E.U., Bulgaria and Romania, two of the poorest countries in the union, saw the free movement of their workers restricted by transitional controls included in the accession treaties. The nationals of these countries could still work in the U.K. and other countries, including Germany and France, before 2014, but required a work permit. As of Jan. 1, those restrictions are gone.

Romania and Bulgaria have the two lowest GDP per capita ratios in the E.U. Unemployment has also been on the rise, especially in Bulgaria, where it now stands at 13.2%, according to Eurostat. Growth in these countries was close to zero in early 2013 with declining investment and subdued consumption, according to the World Bank. This has been the case throughout the new E.U. member states (those that joined after 2004, including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). Unemployment rates in these countries continue to be at their highest level since 2007, with especially high rates for the youth and low-skilled workers.

It is those job seekers, young or low-skilled, that tend to leave the country to look for work abroad, and some experts in Romania and Bulgaria fear a brain-drain due to young and talented nationals leaving after being educated in their home countries.

It's all about the career prospects, wages and standards of living at home, say young Romanians and Bulgarians. Although youth seems to understand that to work in the U.K., for example, they need language skills and they can face discrimination, many are still considering moving, or have moved already. A quarter of the Bulgarian population is believed to speak English – compared to a third in Poland – and an estimated 31% of Romanians.

"Romanians tend to be divided on whether they should stay or leave the country," said Angela Li, a photographer based in Bucharest. "A good chunk of them are still trying to go to other E.U. countries to look for work."

Those that do find jobs at home complain about unsustainably low wages. "It seems that there are work opportunities for young people but most of them are poorly paid," Li added.

Many experts, as well as Romanian and Bulgarian authorities, are skeptical about mass emigration in 2014. Officials point out that many nationals have already left the two countries.

"I don't think it's a big issue," Lubomir Grancharov, Consul at the Bulgarian Consulate General in New York said on the phone. "The people who wanted to go to Great Britain are already there. I don't believe that great numbers are going to go in the New Year."

Grancharov added that many Bulgarians who left for the U.K. prior to 2014 are coming back, because of higher prices for housing and real estate on the isles.

Some experts anticipate as many as 385,000 immigrants, so a scale comparable to the influx of Poles in 2004. The European Movement, a U.K.-based think tank, says it is not possible to provide any accurate estimate adding that "the key factor that will influence whether [Romanian and Bulgarian] nationals seek work in the UK from the beginning of 2014 and beyond will be the likelihood of finding work in Britain compared to other countries to which they will have access."  The think tank pointed out in its recent report that unlike in 2004, the migrants will have a wide choice of European countries to travel to in search of work.

Meanwhile, a backlash against the Bulgarian and Romanian migration is particularly strongly felt in the U.K., which experienced a mass migration of Poles in 2004, when close to half a million of Polish nationals moved to the isles, completely contradicting the official estimates of several tens of thousands and catching the country off guard. Fears of a similar influx from Bulgaria and Romania has caused hostility towards the migrants in media, social media  and among the society, as well as actual legislation. David Cameron said in November that he shared public concerns about the end of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians, while working on a legislation that would make it harder for immigrants to receive social benefits.

On the other side, some U.K. economic experts believe that the influx of new able-bodied immigrants full of a will to work can be good for the economy of the receiving country, especially since such immigrants tend to be young and as such rarely constitute a burden to the national healthcare system or require benefits.

On top of the general migration anxiety in case of Bulgaria and Romania, the controversial issue of Roma is also part of the discussion. Roma people (called pejoratively Gypsies) are known as the personae non gratae of Europe as they are a nation without a country and generally known for being little willing to integrate within societies. Roma constitute about 2.5% (~400,000) of the population of Romania and 4.4% (~300,000) of the population of Bulgaria, according to The European Movement. A 2011 E.U.-funded survey found that one in three Romas is unemployed, 20 % are not covered by health insurance, and some 90% are living below the poverty line.

*The title has been shortened by Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency)

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THEODORE VARDAS - 4 Jan 2014 // 16:15:30


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