Here’s how you work out how many Bulgarians and Romanians are coming to the UK next year

bulgaria-romaniaConcluding his piece Tom Harris says “No one any longer believes government estimates of how many are likely to come here anyway.” No wonder when our elected representatives refuse to explain why the government was wrong in the past. Instead of publicising pieces attacking migrants MPs like Tom should be educating the public. Instead it is going to fall to me.

The original sin of the last decade’s immigration debate is that UK governments have purposefully underestimated the number of expected immigrants. This persistent myth acts as a golden thread connecting immigrant bashing in the same way as youcan’teventalkaboutit, flood metaphors and the same persistent negative stereotypes.

In 2004 eight ex-communist states joined the EU. Their democratisation has been one of the crowning achievements of the European project and to the UK’s eternal credit as principled liberal democracy the UK was one of the few countries not to impose immigration restrictions on these A8 countries.

Christian Dustmann was the lead author on the now infamous Home Office report which predicted an average annual net immigration of 5,000-13,000 from these A8 countries. Needless to say the report wasn’t very accurate. It massively underestimated the pent up demand of Poles to search for a better life and poorly predicted the behaviour of other EU states. It did so because it lacked good data. Tom Harris is happy to pretend we still don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s not true.

According to ONS data, annual net immigration of A8 nationals during 2005-06 was 66,000, more than four times higher than predicted. But according to data from the Worker Registration Scheme that was set up in May 2004, the average annual number of A8 workers registering for employment during 2005-06 was 216,000, almost three times the ONS figure because the ONS excludes people staying for less than a year.

This is what happened. In 2004 73 million Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs, Slovakians, Hungarians and Slovenians gained access to the labour markets of the UK, Ireland and Sweden, a combined population of 74 million. Those were the only three countries to open their doors to their new democratic neighbours, something which Dustmann did not anticipate.

Next year the 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians will be allowed access to the combined labour markets of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain, The Netherlands and the UK, a total of 293 million people.

The average GDP per capita of these counties in 2004 was $8,300, ranging from $6,000 in Latvia to $16,000 in Slovenia. Today Romania’s GDP per capita is $8,000 and Bulgaria is a little poorer at $7,000. The obvious conclusion from these stats will jump out at anyone, January 1st will be a non-event. Half as many people will get access to a labour market four times the size.

Although the UK jobs market is still depressed and in a worse state than Germany’s it is in a better state than southern Europe. A back of the fag packet prediction with much better data and assumptions can get us a realistic picture of what will happen in January. If we had a 200,000 person increase in migration from A8 accession migrants we’ll see an eighth of this.

Conservatives and Labour know they can make hay from immigration. Although they’re both terrified of the public on the subject they know that there are votes in immigration baiting. There’s not much in the numbers and that’s why some in Labour are picking on Roma and David Cameron is reannouncing old immigration policies as new.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that we’ll get between 20,000 and 30,000 more people a year from Romania and Bulgaria coming to work in the UK.  This is a lot less precise but a lot more accurate than anything else you will hear on the topic. Don’t let the scaremongers win on this one.