The prospect of Romania and
Bulgaria joinnig the European
Union has ignited a fierce debate.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has faced criticism over his reluctance to detail UK immigration predictions concerning the number of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants expected next year.
Bulgaria and Romania will accede to the European Union at the end of this year, giving all their citizens the right to live and work anywhere else in the EU without the need for a specific visa.
The last time a similar event occurred - when Poland, Latvia and Lithuania acceded in 2004 - rates of UK immigration reached record highs and many are concerned that the same could be about to happen again.
The problem with official predictions
The then-Labour government predicted in 2004 that Britain could expect no more than 13,000 extra migrants a year. However, actual rates quickly surpassed these estimates, with net UK immigration reaching over 250,000 a year by 2012.
Labour have faced repeated criticism of their immigration policies - particularly their wildly inaccurate predictions - and current Labour Leader Ed Miliband has admitted his party 'got it wrong' on immigration during their 13 years in power.
The current coalition Government therefore has been reluctant to publicly release predictions for Bulgaria and Romania this time around - despite consistent calls to do so - through fear of getting them wrong.
The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said last month he had seen official estimates but was not confident they were correct. Speaking on his weekly phone in show, Mr Clegg admitted he too had seen figures but said it would not help 'public confidence in the immigration system' if they were released.
While many have taken this to mean the figures are high, Mr Clegg insisted the figures are not ready.
"I don't think we as a Government should start bandying around estimates, estimates which at the moment aren't very precise," said the deputy PM.
Why are the numbers so hard to predict?
While Labour may have got their estimates so wrong in 2004, the situation facing the current Government is even more complex; in 2004 only Britain opened its borders to the eight eastern European nations acceding to the EU. In 2013, every EU country will open its borders to Bulgaria and Spain.
There is already a significant number of Bulgarians and Romanians in the UK - 47,000 and 94,000 respectively - but studies show many prefer the cultural and language similarities with Italy and Spain to the UK.
Pressure to release numbers anyway
Migration Watch UK, a staunchly anti-immigration think tank, has released its own estimates of 50,000 Bulgarians and Romanians a year - estimates which it says are conservatively low - and has called on the Government to release its own estimates.
Despite previous mistakes, Labour's shadow immigration minister, Chris Bryant, said the Government is 'in a hopeless mess’ over the issue.
Even London Mayor Boris Johnson has joined in the argument, calling Mr Clegg a 'great big vacillating jelly of indecision' who 'needs to discover some spine' on the issue of immigration.
"If they've got some estimates they should clearly release them," said Mr Johnson.
On his weekly phone in show on LBC, Mr Clegg was pushed on whether the estimates were higher or lower than Labour's 2004 predictions of 13,000 but the deputy prime minister held firm.
"I can't give you clues...you are inviting me to get into a sort of guessing game about an estimate."
Marissa Murdock, casework manager of the UK Visa Bureau, says the Government is right not to release estimates simply to mollify critics if they have no confidence in the figures.
"The situation facing the Government at the end of the year is incredibly complex and there is no way to definitively predict how many people will come," said Ms Murdock.
"Any Government prediction will only further ignite the debate so it is right to hold off on publishing anything until it is certain that they are as accurate as possible."
- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.
©Visa Bureau 2003-2013