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11/27/2013

UK braces for Bulgarian, Romanian worker influx

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British Parliament, under tumultuous skies, is bracing for more European migrants. (Tanya Talaga/Toronto Star)

British Prime Minister David Cameron is on the offensive, speaking out against what he sees as the next great crisis to be making it's way across the English Channel - a massive migration of Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

Since 2004, nearly 1 million Central and Eastern Europeans have migrated into the United Kingdom as visa and labour mobility restrictions disappeared thanks to membership in the European Union. The majority of those new workers are Polish labourers.

As of January 1, 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians will be allowed entry into the British labour market and they'll be given the same rights as British workers.

Well, not so fast, says Cameron, who published a long opinion piece on the movement of workers across Europe and into Britain in the Financial Times on Tuesday.

While Great Britain has championed the cause of countries that spent decades suffering behind the Iron Curtain to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, taking jobs away from British workers is now a problem, Cameron acknowledged.

But free movement across Europe, should be less free, he argues.

So, Cameron has announced his government will be placing restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians. No doubt, this will go over like a lead balloon at the European Commission, who has warned Britain they must follow the EU integration laws.

In the FT piece, Cameron outlined the steps his government is taking to protect British workers.

"We are changing the rules so that no one can come to this country and expect to get out of work benefits immediately; we will not pay them for the first three months. If after three months an EU national needs benefits – we will no longer pay these indefinitely. They will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment," he wrote.

And, if those Bulgarians and Romanians wind up on the streets "begging or sleeping rough -- they will be removed."

Sleeping rough? Does that include a bad nights stay in an overpriced London hotel room?

Cameron goes on to add those individuals will be "barred from re-entry for 12 months, unless they can prove they have a proper reason to be here, such as a job."

And, if any company is caught employing migrants below the minimum wage, they'll pay hefty new fines of 20,000 pounds for every illegally paid employee.

While Cameron may be pulling the drawbridge up, he is also appeasing the growing number of British that are growing tired of the EU and the changes that have occurred to the UK as a result of what they feel is too much integration. And that all paves the way for a coming "in or out" EU referendum that Cameron has pledged to hold if his government wins the next election.

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga

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