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An open letter to the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania
BRITAIN’S newspapers are full of stories about your poverty, criminality and hunger for welfare. Its politicians rail against the European freedom-of-movement rules that will let you in and scramble to make it harder for you to claim benefits. Its population is more hostile than the Germans or the French: almost half of Britons believe their government should ban you from the country even if it is against the law to do so. You might just, as a result, have got the impression that you are not welcome.
But you are. On behalf of The Economist’s home country, we invite you to come and work here. Beginning on January 1st, you can go anywhere in the European Union. We hope lots of you choose Britain. Although our leaders seem to have forgotten, Britain pushed for your country to join the EU, knowing that you would one day turn up on our doorstep.
The going will be rough at first. But the history of many waves of immigration tells us that, before too long, you will be folded comfortably into British society.
More than we bargained for
It is not your fault that most of our countrymen don’t want you. Partly, the problem is the Poles. Ten years ago, when Britain was one of only three countries to open its doors to them, the government assured voters that just a few tens of thousands would come, and probably not for long. Instead more than half a million arrived. And, as well as being workers who cut cabbages and painted walls (displacing some British labourers by the simple expedient of turning up on time), they proved to be human beings who settled down and had children. We weren’t fully prepared for that.
But if our leaders were wrong a decade ago about the number of Poles and other east Europeans who would come to Britain, they are more wrong now about their effect on the country. Politicians claim they are a burden on public services already stretched thin by austerity. Nonsense: being young and able-bodied, they don’t use them much. And because they contribute more to the Treasury in taxes than they take out in benefits and services—about 35% more, according to a plausible estimate—they save our schools and hospitals from deeper cuts. They don’t depress wages much, and mostly among other immigrant workers. They make our economy bigger, lowering our debt-to-GDP ratio. If you are even remotely like them, you will be an economic boon.
Sadly, opinion polls do not lie. Few people want you here. Those of you who end up begging or stealing—and there will inevitably be some—will be featured on the front pages of our newspapers. But in an odd way, this could help you. So loathsome is the idea of Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britons that the reality can only seem pleasant by comparison. People will be nicely surprised when the great majority of you come to work rather than scrounge off the state.
Britain’s labour market is Europe’s most flexible. Its economy is at last growing strongly. Its people are not prejudiced in practice: the polls that show huge opposition to your arrival also suggest that most Britons would consider employing you to work on their houses. The country is used to immigrants. Particularly in London, you will discover all kinds of exotic folk, many of whom were similarly despised when they first arrived. If you are really worried about prejudice, just pretend to be Italian. Nobody will know.
– The Economist