LONDON - The Home Office has spent nearly £280,000 ($780,000) on an advertising campaign warning Bulgarians and Romanians not to come to Britain unless they are skilled and have been offered a job.
The campaign is designed to deter nationals from the two newest members of the EU from arriving in the UK in search of work only to find they are liable to be fined for illegal entry.
The Government has been heavily criticised for under-estimating the number of migrants likely to seek work in the UK after the last major expansion of the EU, when eight former communist states became members in May 2004. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU yesterday.
For Bulgaria, one of the first costs of membership was that two of its nuclear reactors were to close yesterday, after the EU ruled that they were unsafe, despite the Bulgarian Government's protests.
In October, the Home Secretary, John Reid, risked accusations of xenophobia by announcing strict measures to restrict the number of arrivals, including fines up to £1000 to any who take jobs without a permit. The only Bulgarians and Romanians permitted to work in Britain will be a small number of highly skilled employees with jobs waiting for them, 20,000 seasonal agricultural workers, and the self-employed.
The Government has been using television, radio and hoardings to get the message across in Romania and Bulgaria. Some 8000 posters have been put up and 40,000 leaflets distributed across the two countries. The campaign is being run by the International Organisation for Migration, but funded by a Home Office grant, and will run until March 30.
Reid's approach contrasts sharply with the Home Office's attitude in 2004, when it adopted an open-door policy, predicting that the numbers coming in from countries such as Poland and Hungary would be low. Officials expected 5000 to 13,000, but in fact, 447,000 registered for work in the first two years, including nearly 265,000 from Poland. The overall total of those who found work in the UK could be around 600,000, although many were here temporarily and have returned to their home countries.
The familiar sight of the Polish plumber, or the Lithuanian student serving in a fast-food restaurant, has led to complaints that they are adding to the unemployment level among young Britons. The number of jobless in the UK rose during 2006, at the same time that record numbers were in work.
But the biggest concentrations of East European migrants are in areas where employment levels are high, such as East Anglia, and the Home Office turned out to be correct in predicting that most would be young and keen to work. Eighty per cent were under 34, and fewer than 1 per cent applied for unemployment benefit, of whom only 768 were deemed eligible.
NEW EU MEMBERS
* Population: 22.3 million.
* Average monthly wage: £236.
* In 2001, only one million Romanians had a passport; now 6.2 million do.
* Famous for: absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco, the Cheeky Girls and being the home of Dracula.
* Population: 7.8 million.
* Average monthly wage: £120.
* Founded in AD681, Bulgaria is one of the oldest states in Europe.
* Famous for: Georgi Markov, killed in London by a poison-tipped umbrella, and footballer Hristo Stoichkov.