The UK Government is powerless to extend immigration restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria, says Home Secretary Theresa May. Despite earlier announcements of curbs on EU immigration, Bulgarians and Romanians will gain full free movement of labour rights to live and work in the UK by the end of December 2013.
In an another embarrassing climb down, Theresa May has conceded that the 7 year temporary curbs imposed in 2005 to protect the British labour market cannot be extended further.
Mrs May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that was not possible under EU law, although she was “hoping” to limit the impact on the UK economy.
She admitted: “There are no further transitional controls we can put on. The transitional controls end in December 2013.”
Last year the Home Secretary extended UK work restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, who joined the European Union in 2005. This year she warned that curbs could be extended, but had obviously not fully looked at EU regulations.
Immigration Matters reported that Mrs May was looking into a number of wide-ranging treaty busting restrictions on the European Union’s free movement of workers, including access to the UK for dependants of EU citizens, and fresh curbs on access to benefits for EU citizens.
The Guardian said that the Home Secretary believed she could make changes to one of the central pillars of the EU with the support of other member states such as the Netherlands, although Foreign Office sources are concerned that any curbs could lead to reprisals for UK citizens living abroad, such as UK pensioners in Spain.
The European Union is in dispute with the UK over the UK’s habitual “residence test”, which limits state benefit claims by new arrivals. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, at one point last year said that if the UK test was abandoned, the cost to the UK could be more than £2bn a year; he later revised this figure to £155m.
Citizens of European economic area (EEA) countries who wish to claim unemployment benefit have to pass an habitual residence test, which proves their intention to settle in the UK or have a legal right to reside in the country.
Cynthia Barker, of Immigration Advisers Bison UK, said there is a lot of confusion around EU and EEA immigration, even in the appeal tribunal:
“EU citizens living in the UK do not realise that they can fill in a UKBA form to confirm residence in the UK, which could be required if, for instance, they are sponsoring a non-EU partner under EEA regulations.
“Bulgarians and Romanians exercising their treaty rights as a student are currently forced swear an Oath that they will “not be a burden on the state” and take out Comprehensive Sickness Insurance before being granted a yellow card to work and study. They and the European Commission see this as discriminatory.”
There are no Home Office official estimates of the numbers 29 million Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who are likely to exercise their free movement rights once UK work controls are lifted.
Last month, Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch UK called on the Government to extend work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians for a further 5 years.
The Migration Advisory Committee said there is evidence Romanians and Bulgarians would move to Britain because of its stronger economy compared to other EU nations such as Spain.
Extending UK work restrictions will involve tearing up the treaty signed when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, which the Government does not have the will to do.
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