Hungary Restricts Balkan Job Seekers

After criticizing such moves when it joined the bloc, Hungary is the first new EU member state to put temporary restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania

Hungary is the first and possibly the only EU newcomer to introduce temporary restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania despite its previous criticism of "old" member states for limiting free access to labour markets to ten countries that joined the bloc in 2004.

Budapest announced on Wednesday (20 December) that it would open up the jobs market "in phases" to Romanian and Bulgarian workers after the two South-East Balkan countries enter the EU on 1 January.

In the meantime however, Hungary will keep a quota system with various limits on different professions while the centre-left government decided to extend the list of areas with automatic working permits from the 140 previously proposed areas to 219, AFP agency reported.

These will include sectors where the country faces labour shortages, such as textiles, healthcare and construction industries.

Hungary currently has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent which is the lowest rate in central Europe. It is expected to rise however, as the government sheds jobs to cut its budget deficit.

No other new member state has so far taken a similar step as Budapest has towards future Balkan job seekers, with Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania having all stated that they would open their labour markets.

Of the "old" EU countries Sweden and Finland will also put no restrictions in place while Spain, Greece, the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark announced they would introduce quotas or other work-permit systems.

Free movement of workers is one of the fundamental principles of the European Union but the member states can apply temporary measures to protect their labour markets from an influx of migrant workers for up to seven years.