About 100 Romanians and Bulgarians a day are getting jobs in Britain, according to official figures.
The number of people from the two EU countries has soared by more than a third over the past year, even though they are not yet allowed to work freely in this country.
The number here has reached a record high of 141,000, according to the Office for National Statistics – over-shadowing the total number of Australians and New Zealanders for the first time since records began.
There were just 2,000 Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain in 1997, against 78,000 from Australia and New Zealand.
The speed at which the numbers are increasing is dramatic, up 35.1 per cent – or 37,000 people – over the past year, while the numbers from most other countries are either falling or rising modestly.
There are already fears of an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians next year when current restrictions on their rights to work in Britain are lifted.
At present, they can only work here if they are self-employed, or are one of a limited number of seasonal workers allowed to come for up to six months a year but must then go home.
From January, they will have free access to the labour market in Britain, like other European Union citizens.
The influx is hardly surprising, given that Bulgaria’s minimum wage is 73p an hour and in Romania it is 79p, while in Britain it will rise to £6.31 for over-21s later this year.
ONS figures for the last year showed that overall there were 307,000 more people in employment. However, of this number, two-thirds – or 204,000 – were born abroad.
If the figures are judged according to a worker’s nationality, which can be changed, rather than their country of birth, which cannot be altered, two-thirds of the increase was among Britons.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: ‘These figures show that we are building an immigration system that works in the national interest and is supporting growth.
‘The rise in numbers in employment has benefited British citizens first, but we are still attracting skilled migrants to come to the UK where they are needed by British businesses.’
The Government has repeatedly refused to put a figure on the likely influx of Romanians and Bulgarians next year.
Ministers have said an estimate is impossible, fearing a repeat of the 2004 debacle when the influx from eight Eastern European countries was grossly underestimated by the then Labour government.
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