UK poised for new year immigration
Romanians and Bulgarians will have unrestricted access to the UK labour market from New Year's Day amid an increasingly bitter debate over immigration in Britain.
As Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May roll out tough new measures designed to tackle fears that the Government is a soft touch on immigration, temporary curbs imposed in 2005 on citizens of Romania and Bulgaria will be lifted.
The Government has said it will be "business as usual" on January 1 at the UK border and it remains unclear if additional staff or measures are being put in place at airports and ferry ports in the event significant numbers arrive.
The Government has refused repeated demands to publish or commission estimates of the numbers expected to enter Britain in the face of unofficial research predicting as many as 50,000 people arriving from the eastern European countries each year.
But leading politicians from Bulgaria and Romania have dismissed fears that the change in access restrictions will trigger a wave of immigration to the UK.
While some have raised fears of a surge in immigration similar to that seen from Poland in 2002, others have accused the Prime Minister of "pandering to prejudice" as he responds to the threat posed by the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
Mr Cameron has rushed through new measures to ensure from January 1 EU migrants will be unable to claim out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the UK.
In addition, those found begging or sleeping rough could be deported and barred from re-entry for 12 months unless they can show they have a proper reason to be in the UK, such as holding a job.
Other proposals previously announced will see migrant access to the NHS restricted, while landlords, employers, bankers and DVLA staff will all be expected to take part in checks for illegal immigrants under tough reforms.
A range of polarised reports over the last year on the potential impact Romanians and Bulgarians will have on the UK have included a predicted surge in pick-pocketing, muggings, beggars on the streets and rioting.
However, business leaders have said a rise in job-seeking immigrants will be welcomed in the face of a lack of Britons willing to fill certain roles.
And migration experts have said the UK will easily be able to absorb any migrant workers if the Government adopts minor contingency measures to deal with pressures in local areas.