The unlikely eastern European immigration wave within the crisis-ridden Union

This January, seven years after Romania and Bulgaria became citizens of the European Union, the the final transitional immigration controls on the two countries are set to expire. In the United Kingdom, parallels are already being drawn with the 2004 “wave” of immigration, when Poland and the other so-called A8 countries [Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithunia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, who joined the EU in 2004] gained the rights to travel and work throughout the EU. [The UK introduced measures between 2004-2011 limiting the number of workers from new accession countries who could work in Britain.]

However, the main “pull” factors of immigration, which include employment opportunities, relative gross national income per capita (GNI per capita) and comparative opportunities across the EU, all suggest that the immigration flow from Romania and Bulgaria will not only be significantly smaller than 2004 levels, but will also be more diffuse throughout EU member states.

A key driver for economic immigration is the high difference between unemployment levels. In 2004, unemployment in Poland lay at 18.9 per cent, compared to Britain’s 4.6 per cent. While Bulgaria remains poor, its current unemployment rate has dropped to 12.4 per cent compared to the UK’s 7.8 per cent. Given the trend of rising unemployment in the UK, the country’s attractiveness as a destination of economic migration is in question. This is even more true for Romania, where unemployment is lower than the UK, at 6.7 per cent.

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