Why ending transitional measures for Romanians could solve, not fuel, problems
Tonight’s Panorama on Romanian migration to the UK tackled a sensitive issue with traditional BBC balance and politeness, but an essentially illogical approach. On 1 January, Romanian (and Bulgarian) workers will get full access to the UK labour market. That has made many people – fanned by right-wing, populist politicians – worried about an influx of Romanians, and the impact it will have on crime and social problems, as well as wages and unemployment.
As proof of the potential problem, Panorama pointed to the Romanian experience in the UK so far: images of Romanians (especially Roma) sleeping rough, worrying statistics on begging and pickpocketing, horror stories about work on the black market. But this is the position already, without proper access to the labour market. As was the case for previous accession countries, transitional measures didn’t in fact prevent migration – they just meant that migrants weren’t entitled to employment, and ensured that many entered the country as bogus self-employed, pretend tourists, or fake students.
Some Romanians, of course, were genuinely self-employed, tourists or students. Panorama drew attention to the genuine students, the many highly-qualified Romanians who are much in demand, and the greater attraction of countries like Germany, Italy and even recession-hit Spain. But not surprisingly, the least well-qualified, poorest, most vulnerable Romanians are likely to be in the same position if they move to Britain without the employment rights, protection and status that will be possible from next month.
The solution to the problems that migration can cause – extreme exploitation, pressure on services, and undercutting – won’t be solved by stopping them from coming here. We don’t need fewer migrants or restrictions on their rights, we need quality at the workplace, security and protection from exploitation, and a better-managed immigration system.
Panorama did attempt some balance. The police were pretty unequivocally even-handed, and one drew attention to the role that proper employment could play in protecting Romanian migrants. But the only politicians interviewed were from the Government (and only a Conservative at that, which ignores the growing unease among their Liberal Democrat colleagues) and from UKIP. I don’t know if they asked any Labour politicians to appear. But the TUC was not asked, and we would have given a different perspective.