Cutting migration is the UK government's mantra, but at the end of the year, it will have to throw its borders open to two more full EU members, Romania and Bulgaria. So how will it proceed?
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is well into its "Great" campaign, which kicked off in 2011. "The GREAT campaign is designed to … showcase Britain's capabilities, to promote and enhance our reputation abroad …[and] invites the world to take a fresh look at everything Britain has to offer," declares the FCO website.
Images of a "cool" and branded Britannia are designed to draw visitors, investments and confidence to a country that is struggling, like most in Europe, with austerity.
At the same time, though, the Conservative government is trying to cut immigration figures - and claims to be succeeding. It was perhaps not such a preposterous leap, then, when reports came out of the UK last week claiming that the government was busily thinking of how it could reverse its "great image" in countries like Romania and Bulgaria.
'Working to cut net migration'
The British Home Office told DW that it's not sure where this report of a negative advertising campaign originated. UK Immigration minister Mark Harper also denied, when questioned on television, that they had been planning a "Britain is not so great" campaign aimed at Romania and Bulgaria. The Home Office did tell DW that a general reduction in migration is being implemented.
"We are working to cut net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament [in 2015] and our tough new rules are already taking effect with overall net migration falling by a quarter in the past year," the office told DW.
Still, reports about British fears of an "invasion" of benefit seekers from Romania and Bulgaria have already sparked a diplomatic row. Titus Corlatean, the Romanian foreign affairs minister, was quoted as saying that the Romanian government had "serious concerns" about Britain's attitude toward this planned "invasion." The Romanian ambassador to the UK, Dr. Ion Jinga, said wryly in an interview "Don't worry, we are not going to invade you."
"I know there is a fear that what happened in 2004 with Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, could be repeated [in 2014]," Jinga said, "but when Poland joined the EU, there were only three countries open to the labor market. But now, when we are joining, all 25 countries are open."
'Migration is not a hobby'
A Romanian academic who wished to remain anonymous, but has himself spent long periods of time living in the UK and now Germany, told DW that, "Migration is not a hobby, and is certainly not done for pleasure. Most people decide to migrate when they do not have a choice, he believes, and "when there is no choice people will migrate independent of whether the EU chooses to lift restrictions or not."
Dr. Alina Branda, a lecturer in European studies and migration at the University of Cluj-Napoca in Romania has been studying migrants in the Carpathian Mountains. She told DW that migration is largely cyclical and that most Romanians return to Romania eventually. She also noted that many of the migrants tended to go to the same places, "where they would be helped to find work and houses by fellow community members." Some pensioners work in places like Italy as carers or "badanti" for old people, where they can earn about 600-700 euro a month, three times the average state pension in Romania.
Foreign born residents increasing in the UK
Since 2001 Britain has seen a 66 percent increase in its number of foreign-born residents, adding nearly three million new migrants to the resident population. When the EU was last expanded in 2004, the Labour government predicted that only a few thousand Poles would migrate. Thousands more arrived.
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, an organization with a stated concern "about the present scale of immigration in the UK," said, "It is not good enough to duck making an estimate of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. It is likely to be on a scale that will have significant consequences for housing and public services. It will also add further to the competition which young British workers already face." His organization believes that "migration from Romania and Bulgaria could easily hit an average of 50,000 a year, totaling 250,000 in five years."
The British government says it is working on the rules governing the welfare state. At this point, the Home Office told DW that it was "too early to comment" on how any rule changes might work, but that it was looking closely at the benefits system "to make sure that if someone is making a choice, about where they come… we want to make sure that we are not the easiest country."
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