May 14 (Bloomberg) -- The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the U.K. dropped in the first quarter despite the lifting of employment curbs at the start of the year, according to official figures published today.
A total of 140,000 people from the two eastern European nations were employed in Britain between January and March compared with 144,000 in the final three months of 2013, the Office for National Statistics said in London. The number is up 26 percent from 112,000 a year earlier.
Prime Minister David Cameron said predictions of a flood of immigration after transitional controls for citizens of Romania and Bulgaria were lifted on Jan. 1 had not materialized. In November, under pressure to stop Tory voters defecting to the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party, he announced restrictions on the rights of new arrivals from the European Union.
“Three-quarters of the jobs over the last year have gone to U.K. nationals, and the employment of Bulgarians and Romanians actually went down in the first three months of this year following the lifting of the controls,” Cameron told lawmakers during his weekly questions session in the House of Commons today.
The figures come a week before European Parliament elections. Polls show the Conservatives are in third place behind UKIP, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the EU, and the main opposition Labour Party.
In a pre-2010 election commitment, Cameron said he wanted to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015. It rose to 212,000 people in the year through September, with arrivals from other EU nations accounting for all of the increase.
“We want to see that come down further,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today.
Labour lawmaker Keith Vaz, chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, said in an e-mail “the supposed flood of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria was little more than a trickle.”
Vaz invited television cameras to film him greeting the first Bulgarian and Romanian migrants as they arrived at Luton Airport, north of London, on Jan. 1. Immigration is a key political issue in the U.K., with some Britons complaining that migrants are taking jobs and depressing wages.
“When I see large taxi companies who now employ gangs of effectively cheap labour, and I see the same happening with the agri-businesses, there are two things happening: one is a degree of job displacement,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage said on a visit to Belfast today, according to the Press Association newswire. “What is happening for certain is wage compression on a very large scale.”
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