Bulgaria and Romania have been waiting for seven years for the same cross-border work rights as other Europeans for their nationals within the European Union, including notably reticent Britain and France. This January 1, EU freedoms become theirs, too.
The Tranca family in Bucharest is determined to move to Britain.
Marioara Tranca said: “I will cut back on what I can so that my child can go to school there. Like that, he will have a job, after high school and university. Life is different there; it is easier to make money. You work less there than here in Romania, but the rewards are greater in England.”
In Bulgaria minimum pay is around a tenth of what can be earned in other countries. Recent surveys have found that three to four percent of Bulgarians are considering leaving, in search of greater opportunities.
Professional driver Biser Petrov said: “I’d go to the UK, because life is normal there, and pay is more respectable; Here, nobody gets even half the salary he deserves for a job well done.”
In 2007, three years after a wave of ten new mostly eastern European, ex-communist states became EU members, it opened up to Romania and Bulgaria, but with restrictions on workers’ rights in the single market.
This is because they are the EU’s two poorest states, and richer members feared for their labour markets and social systems. In an IMF global earning ranking, their people place 70th and 74th. Bulgaria has around 13 percent unemployment, Romania more than seven, while the euro zone average is 12 percent.
Most of the people who say they are ready to seek their fortunes elsewhere are under age 30 and have secondary school education qualifications or higher, such as Rosen Yordanov, who is a graphic designer. Since work for him is thin on the ground in Bulgaria, he also is optimistic about Britain.
Yordanov said: “People are smart enough to ignore media attacks portraying waves of immigrants. I don’t think it will spoil my plans.”
Alarmists worry about waves of people trying to take advantage of strained welfare systems, while others minimise the grounds for concern. One of these is migration expert Klaus Bade.
Klaus Bade said: “Total immigration from Romania and Bulgaria is not about the poor, but about the elites. Of those living in Germany, 80 percent are employed. Forty-six percent of them are qualified; 22 percent of them are highly qualified, with an academic degree.’‘
Among those without work in Germany, Mitko left Bulgaria with his three children five years ago, and they’ve been improvising a living, never touching any social welfare benefits. That might be about to change.