20% rise in Eastern Europe workers
The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has risen by 20%, official figures have revealed.
Some 189,000 people from the two Eastern European countries "by birth" were working here by the end of September, up 31,000 on the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. This also compares to 150,000 in the final quarter of last year.
The figure was 167,000 "by nationality", which does not include those who have adopted British or other citizenship, the ONS said.
Employment curbs were lifted for citizens of the so-called A2 countries on January 1, prompting warnings of a looming surge of immigration from the likes of Ukip.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: " Migration Watch UK estimated that the population of Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK would increase by 50,000 a year. This forecast appears to be on track. Migration from the EU in general remains high and so is likely to remain a key political issue."
Romania and Bulgaria were the only countries that saw increased levels of workers emigrating to Britain in the period.
The ONS figures showed the first fall in the number of workers from all 27 other European Union countries for more than a year.
There were 1.81 million workers from the EU as a whole by country of birth, compared with 1.84 million at the end of the previous quarter.
The number of workers from the so-called A8 countries - including Poland - fell from 866,000 to 850,000 between the end of June and the end of September.
Despite the drop in overall EU numbers, the rise in workers from Romania and Bulgaria is likely to trigger further debate over freedom of movement in the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron has called for reforms to EU free movement but this has been met with concern and criticism by European counterparts.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear she regards the principle of free movement of labour within the European Union as non-negotiable and is reported to have warned the Prime Minister that his drive is pushing Britain towards ''a point of no return'' on the road to exit from Europe.