Much noise has been made over the supposed impending threat of masses of new migrants arriving from Bulgaria and Romania
The change to the system is simple, from 1st January this year, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals who wish to work in the UK are no longer required to obtain prior authorisation from the Home Office, they will not be required to have an accession worker card or registration certificate as evidence of permission to work or of their right to reside as a worker.
Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have already been free to work without restrictions in 19 countries that were not applying ‘transitional measures’ and have of course been enjoying the right to travel and reside in all Member States since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007.
Being a member of the European Union (EU) brings additional rights to EU citizens, one of which is free movement and currently there are over 14 million European citizens, studying, working or retiring in another member state.
So why then, did the lifting of the last restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals cause such a stir in the populist media, considering such restrictions were not applied in 19 other member states in Europe? Why is the issue of immigration so contentious? Why are people so fearful of an open and honest debate around immigration?
At Show Racism the Red Card we engage daily with adults and young people on issues of immigration. The debate is very quickly less about the movement of people, but about, jobs, entitlements, the NHS, the welfare system and schools. The debate is often framed in a simplistic but none the less sensationalist way. Many people start conversations on the assumption that there is a natural correlation between the number of migrants entering the UK and their own experience of their country. The debate very often looks something like this:
Increase in inward migration = less money and resources for British people
Of course the reality is much more complex than this. Arguments which look at the fact that many migrants fill skill gaps and labour shortages, that many migrants are of working age and generally healthy, are generally net contributors to the host country's welfare system through taxation; are vacant from public discourse and almost none existent in our workshops. Opinions are based on perception rather than reality.
With public expenditure being drastically cut and unemployment at around 2.39 million (Office for National Statistics: Dec 2013) you can see why a more reasoned debate over immigration is not emotionally attractive, but desperately needed. When people see their expendable income quickly disappear as prices rise and wages which stagnate, we cannot help but look for something, or more pertinently, someone to blame.
Many tabloid newspapers are recklessly exploiting the emotional attraction of immigrants as scapegoats. It is profitable, it is easy. To tell the truth about immigration requires more than a 5 word headline, it requires more than an article in The Daily Express; it requires political literacy, time and space for dialogue, not impending doom monologues: ‘Farage-esque’.
Let us be mindful that on 1st January 2014, there was not a rush of Bulgarians and Romanians clambering over airport officials to be part of the promised land of benefits and full employment. Journalists waiting at Heathrow airport on January 1st struggled to find any Bulgarian or Romanian immigrants, with one paper finding just one genuine new migrant (www.politics.co.uk).
Let us also be mindful, after the restrictions were lifted, papers profited from the hysteria that they created. They do not seek to tell the truth, it is not in their interest. The readers that they have exploited remain with the same bitterness and discontent over immigration; they are left not with a solution but a scapegoat.
So in answer to the question posed at the beginning, hysteria about immigration will continue as long as there are people who are willing and able to profit from it.