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Anna Marie from Romania

Anna Marie, a bright young Romanian citizen, came to the UK for the first time as an au pair in 2003. She went back to Romania a couple of years later before her visa expired. Like thousands of other Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, she thought she was about to have another chance to work in the UK when they joined the European Union on 1st January 2007.

She returned to the UK in February and quickly found a job in the care industry. She assumed that she would be treated just like other EU citizens from former eastern bloc countries such as Poland and Slovakia. However, Anna Marie and her employer were in for a shock.

Romanians and Bulgarians do not have the same rights to work in the UK as previous new EU citizens.

When the previous A8 nations joined the EU in 2004, Britain was one of only three European member states to allow free movement of labour. All people from the new EU countries had to do in order to work in the UK was to apply to the Home Office under the ‘Workers Registration Scheme’ (WRS). This is one of the main reasons why far more eastern Europeans migrated to Britain than originally anticipated.

In 2004, Tony McNulty, a Home Office Minister, estimated that around 13,000 people would migrate to the UK from the new EU member states. The fact that over 600,000 people subsequently moved here in the last 18 months led to media driven fears of a “stampede” on 1 January 2007, forcing the government to impose restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants.

The Home Office has stated that although they will not require ‘leave to enter’ (a visa) the UK, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals wanting to work will still need to obtain “authorisationbefore starting any employment, unless they are exempt from doing so.

This authorisation will normally take the form of an “Accession Worker Card”. Bulgarian and Romanian nationals will be able to apply to the Home Office for an Accession Worker Card without the need for an employer to apply for a work permit for a limited number of employment categories, including: airport based operational ground staff of an overseas airline; Au Pairs; Domestic Workers; Ministers of Religion; Postgraduate doctors; dentists; and trainee general practitioners. For a full list see the Home Office website.

If the employment does not fall into one of the above categories, the process for obtaining authorisation to work will be as follows:

  • The UK employer applies for approval of the employment under the work permit arrangements.
  • The Bulgarian or Romanian national applies for an Accession Worker card.

The qualifying criteria and guidance notes can be found on the Home Office website.

In Anna Marie’s case, the only way she could work was for the employer to apply for a work permit. Unfortunately, she did not have the required experience to qualify for a work permit at which point she contacted us for advice.

She said she was surprised by the rules and was not aware of the restrictions on working.

“The information that I got before I came here was not enough. I thought I could start working in the UK when I got an offer from an employer but it was not like that”, she said.

Many of her countrymen have also found themselves stranded in the UK, unable to work. Fortunately, unlike many of the Romanians she has met in a similar position, Anna Marie speaks good English and knows her way around the system in the UK

She has now registered as a student and enrolled in a college providing NVQ courses in Health and Social Care. The vocational course will involve working in a care home to complete the practical part of her studies.

Romanians and Bulgarians should check the Home Office website before traveling to the UK.

Employers need to be aware of the rules when employing Romanian and Bulgarian staff. Further information can be found on the Home Office website:

If you should have any questions or need help please email Charles Kelly

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Posted on Mar 13, 2007 - Last updated on Jul 28, 2009

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