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Romania and Bulgaria (the ‘A2’ states) joined the EU on 1 January 2007. The accession treaties allowed other Member States to apply transitional restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers’ free movement rights for up to seven years after accession, in order to guard against disruption of their labour markets. Transitional restrictions cannot be applied against other categories of A2 national exercising free movement rights (such as ‘self-sufficient’ or ‘self-employed’ persons). All Member States must lift restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers by the end of 2013.

The UK has applied restrictions for the full seven year period. Bulgarians’ and Romanians’ opportunities to come to work in the UK have been limited to two schemes for highly skilled and skilled workers, and two quota-based schemes for low-skilled work in the agricultural and food processing sectors. With limited exceptions, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals have been required to obtain a ‘worker authorisation document’ before beginning employment in the UK. Non-compliant A2 workers (and their employers) have been liable to fines and prosecution.

When the transitional restrictions are lifted, Bulgarian and Romanian workers will no longer be subject to worker authorisation, and will be able to come to work (or look for work) in the UK on the same basis as other EU nationals.

There are no official forecasts of migration to the UK by nationals of Bulgaria and Romania after 2013. A report produced by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office concluded that it is not possible to produce such a forecast because of a lack of accurate data on migration.

The Government considers that A2 migrants will more likely choose to move to Germany, Spain or Italy than come to the UK. Nevertheless, it has acknowledged concerns about potential negative impacts of a significant increase in immigration from the A2 states. It is taking a range of measures in order to address perceived ‘pull factors’ for migration to the UK, such as new restrictions on migrants’ access to welfare benefits.

In late November, an article written for the Financial Times by the Prime Minister proposed a further set of measures, including broader changes to the fundamental principle of free movement of persons.

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