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Bulgarian immigrants steal British jobs and abuse our social benefits system – commonly heard but how true is it?

14 January 14

After seven years of full EU membership on the 1st January 2014 the restrictions upon Bulgarians and Romanians working in the UK were officially lifted, along with their access our welfare system. The British media has long reported fears of a massive influx of immigrants, opening the sluice gates to 29 million prospective 'benefit tourists’, engulfing our society and threatening our British culture. Reports of every bus and coach in the country being readied for the dash across Europe, seats being sold for 3,000 euros / one way ticket from Sofia to London, flights doubled by carriers to ‘cope’ with the huge demand.


So, is it really the case?


We all know that the media loves a negative angle on an issue that threatens national heritage to help sell papers, but really the facts speak for themselves:


  • A report compiled by the European Commission, quoted by Financial Times on 6.12.13, found absolutely no evidence that migrants from European Union member states access UK welfare benefits proportionately more than any other residents of the United Kingdom. The report concludes that the same is true for all other European countries.


  • A recent Mori survey discovered that the British public think that £24 out of every £100 spent by the state on benefits is claimed illegitimately and fraudulently. However, the actual official figure is just 70 pence in every £100, some 3428% less.


  • In the Netherlands, where unlike in the UK compulsory and immediate registration is legally required: as of the 10th January only 21 Romanians and 15 Bulgarians had registered.


  • On the 1st January reporters eagerly awaited the massive influx of migrants landing from Sofia at Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton. Of all the ‘doubled flights to cope with demand’, only one Bulgarian was discovered to have come to find work for the first time in the UK because he legally now could. Another was reported to be job hunting from the next working day, but only because he had lost his job as a mechanic before Christmas having lived in the UK for the past 6 years.  Most of them were amongst the 47,000 Bulgarians (Home Office 2012 statistic) who already live and work in the UK, simply returning from seeing their friends and families over the festive period.


  • In reality, just like every other nation operating on the Gregorian calendar, on the 1st January most are suffering from headaches and hangovers and might perhaps consider the UK whenever a career change is required, not just because the New Year has come with a new law. Of course many more might arrive later; the best estimates have been released by the Home Office predicting that approximately 13,000 will arrive in 2014, but the coalition’s MPs are reluctant to agree after Labour got the Polish immigration figures so wrong in 2004.


  • The same EU laws that allow Bulgarians to live and work in the UK allow 425,000 Brits to live fulltime in Spain, costing the Spanish government half a billion Euros per year in healthcare alone.


Isn’t it the case that Bulgarians can just turn up and claim benefits?


Actually no, not anymore. As of the 1st January any other EU nationality must be resident in the UK for three months to have a right to claim benefits in the UK. Anyone intent on being a benefits tourist and not working to sustain their lifestyle would have to have considerable financial savings to survive in the UK for a 3 month holiday. Quite unlikely for someone who doesn’t want to work and yet somehow saves the necessary funds from a Bulgarian state pension of £150 / month or has a Bulgarian professional salary of just £650 / month average, keeping in mind that cars, petrol, gas, heating and alike are absolutely no cheaper in Bulgaria than anywhere else.


Furthermore, any non British claimant must now pass an English language test, which will entirely rule out the predominant concerns of Bulgaria’s gypsy population entering and claiming unjustly. Today Brussels launched a court case against the United Kingdom for imposing this new restriction, its legality will be determined by the European courts in due course.

In any case, given that an English speaker will have greater opportunities working in the many caller centres in Sofia, UK residents are more likely to encounter them whilst booking through Top Table, hiring a Europcar or calling Hewlett Packard’s customer services line. Salaries for speakers of second languages are 50% higher and thus can afford a superior living standard than any benefit tourist could hope for in the UK.


Despite the overhyped headlines and tabloid hysteria, the reality is that those Bulgarians intent on working in the UK are already doing so, 47,000 of them to be precise. It is unlikely that roles for hedge fund managers and surgeons will suddenly become of interest to the Bulgarian highly skilled elite just because the law has been relaxed. If they wanted to work in London or Manchester they would already be there, legally and without any hurdles.

The key difference now is that lower skilled labour or those just starting their careers will be able to compete more effectively. Employers will no longer need to cover the additional cost of work permit applications or the legal justification for that particular candidate over another (resident labour market test - 28 days public advertising without response from a ‘settled worker’), which previously put applicants from Bulgaria at a considerable disadvantage at interview stage. Bulgarian employment in the UK has never actually been an enforced legal restriction, but rather one of higher costs by default: one month to process a single candidate, high risk of response from a settled worker, unjustifiable uncertainty, additional permit costs / administration etc, thus it was most commonly an undesired and expensive recruitment avenue for employers.


One of the most valid concerns is that organised crime will gather gypsies and herd them through the benefits system, working around the new tests and export the benefit money out of the UK. However, this is a criminal act well known and long established, it is for consideration by Interpol and not necessarily for the UK policy makers and politicians. If there are holes in the existing benefit system that allows any individual to not work and still make more money than if they do, this is a domestic problem for the state to address and has no bearing on new labour coming in from the newer EU members. Fortunately, any such remedy will have to apply equally to lazy Brits as well as lazy Bulgarians without discrimination.

The labour migrations laws of the European Union are not to be blamed when domestic welfare polices legally allow its claimants to breed off the state, yet still financially gain more than if they actually worked to cover their own costs for their choice of lifestyle. Too often taken for granted, the British welfare state is arguably the most fantastic egalitarian system; an expensive but proud statement that fundamentally underlines the true value of being British by comparison to other nation states, its protection from foreign and domestic abuse is unquestionably essential.


Given that 2.52 million people resident in the UK are currently actively seeking jobs but unable to find them, are not accepting the 503,000 currently available vacancies (Office for National Statistics 2013), it is most likely that these unwanted roles will largely be those taken by incoming new migrants seeking higher paid jobs and a higher standard of living than they can find at home.

In our opinion at least, the British companies and employers who have these half a million vacancies will only benefit from that work actually being done, meanwhile the state and the public will benefit from the vast income tax and national insurance contributions that will result for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. Bulgarians are hardly ‘stealing our jobs’ when they are all equally available to Brits, who seemingly choose not to take them.