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February 1, 2013 / politicsbitesize

The Rights of Foreign Nationals

Romania

Bran Castle or “Dracula’s Castle” in Romania

It has been argued for decades that a rise in anti-immigration sentiment is often a direct result of a failing economy, as people look for easy targets to blame for any hardships and problems that they may face. Austerity measures implemented across the EU and in the UK augment feelings of resentment toward the ‘other’ and feed the agendas of the political right.  The propaganda of many far-right groups stirs up anxieties in those who think that an influx of people not born in the UK will damage the ability of those born here to get jobs and housing.

But it seems that it is not just those who lean to the far-right of the political spectrum who are becoming vocal about the negative effects of immigration.  Since hearing the news that at the start of 2014 the transitional labour controls on people coming from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK are to be relaxed, a number of Conservative MPs have become agitated.

On Monday the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, claimed that MPs were “utterly opposed” to the European Commission’s proposals, which will allow future migrants to “claim benefits one day after arriving”.  The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, went on to admit that an influx of migrants would “cause problems” with services such as housing. However, it should be noted that any nation that allows migrants in is not obliged to pay benefits or provide housing to foreign nationals unless certain residency tests are met.

It has been the case that since 2007 Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to come to the UK as self-employed businessmen or women, or as students, provided they do not seek benefits or any other employment.  The only difference from next year will be that the law will be changed so that Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will have the same foreign national rights as citizens from the other 24 EU countries (see below for further details).

Fortunately there have been voices of reason and logic following along behind the anti-immigration rhetoric.  Keith Vaz, Labour MP and Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, aired his opinion that instead of panicking about immigration levels, “ministers would be better off working with their Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts and the EU to address the reasons migrants want to come here in the first place”.

His comments came after it was claimed that No. 10 was considering implementing a number of ‘negative’ adverts designed to put Romanians and Bulgarians off coming to the UK.  The idea that migrants could be deterred by references to the amount it rains in Britain and the fact that it is cold here are just farcical and “counterproductive”, suggested Mr Vaz.

Another welcome voice in this debate is that of  Nikolaus G. van der Pas, Former Director-General of the European Commission (1999-2009).  In a letter to the Financial Times he stated that:

Prime Minister David Cameron recently suggested a limitation of intra-EU migration. In 2010 (the latest figure available to me) only 0.2 per cent of the UK’s working population was Romanian and Bulgarian; 1.5 per cent came from EU members that joined in 2004. By contrast, non-EU citizens made up 3.7 per cent.

 What is to be feared? A housing problem, as recently stated by Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary? But nobody expressed fears about pressures on the labour market or social security systems. Indeed, no such problems arose after the EU’s enlargement in 2004, without the UK applying any restrictions. True, crisis and austerity have raised levels of anxiety. But for the UK to demand continued access to the internal market, while killing one of its prominent features, seems contradictory, to say the least.”

Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that the majority of migrants coming from EU countries to the UK find work and go through the correct channels to ensure that their stay here is legitimate.  According to the website of the UK Borders Agency, the rights and responsibilities of nationals from the European Economic Area (EEA) countries are as follows:

As an EEA or Swiss national, you have the right to live and work in the UK (known as the ‘right of residence’) if:

  • you are working here (and have obtained our permission to work if this is required); or
  • you can support yourself and your family in the UK without becoming an unreasonable burden on public funds.

 You do not need to work while you are living in the UK. But if you do not work, you must be able to support yourself and your family in the UK without becoming an unreasonable burden on public funds.”

So, Iain Duncan Smith’s comment that migrants can “claim benefits one day after arriving” is not only scaremongering, it is completely incorrect.  By panicking the British public with notions of widespread overcrowding and a diminishing jobs market, the current government is behaving in a thoroughly irresponsible manner.  What is needed is a thoughtful approach to the issues surrounding the growing numbers of people entering the UK and a solution must be sought that does not continue to breed anti-immigration sentiments.

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