The immigration minister, Mark Harper, has played down mass immigration by Romanian and Bulgarians in the New Year, insisting that such an influx will not happen. Those of us with fairly good memories will recall a similar statement made by Labour when Poland gained accession to the EU. A lowly figure of 13,000 was advanced by the Labour government, to howls of laughter from those of us employed as immigration officers.
Harper has stated, correctly as it happens, that extending the “restrictions” on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals is not legally possible. What he does not tell you, nor does any other politician, is that the “restrictions” are a smokescreen, a sham, a con-trick perpetrated on the British people.
The so-called restrictions on the two nationals under consideration are broadly thus : they should be self employed, or arriving to take up job offers in certain categories, the main one being fruit picking. It would be reasonable to expect those arriving at our borders to demonstrate that they were eligible to gain admission. They would do this by showing to an immigration officer some evidence of the job they had been offered, or of their business plan if they were to be self-employed. This never happened. Any Bulgarian or Romanian producing a valid passport or national identity card was granted admission to the UK without question.
On one occasion I witnessed a colleague questioning a Romanian as to his intentions. She was ordered to desist by an angry Chief Immigration Officer.
If the circumstances of new arrivals were not tested at the borders then the restrictions became meaningless: they would technically apply only when the nationals reached the UK. This explains why there are already so many Romanians and Bulgarians resident in the UK and why any extension of the restrictions will prove just as ineffective.
Bulgarians and Romanians were granted access to the EU, and the UK government, remembering the outcry when other Eastern countries entered the union, decided they would allay the fears of the British people by restricting the employment rights of the newcomers. We were to believe that those arriving would have jobs and be self supporting. So, in addition to showing proof of employment, the newcomers should have satisfied immigration staff that they had sufficient funds to support themselves and / or establish their new businesses, and that they had accommodation arranged. This is the basic criteria used when assessing non EU visitors and should have applied to those seeking admission under restrictions. As stated, no questions were asked and so border staff had no idea whether or not individuals met with the restrictive rules.
That restrictions were not applied at the border – the only place where they would be meaningful – must have been decided at the highest level. Even Directors at the ports would not have had the authority to order a relaxing of restrictions which would result in admission without hindrance. Such a decision could only have been made at ministerial level and one can only infer that it was with the utmost cynicism that we were given to believe that those two nationalities were denied untrammelled access to the UK.
The clamour to extend restrictions – in the hope we can regain some control of our borders- is understandable. Unfortunately it is a forlorn hope for the reasons stated: no such restrictions ever existed.