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Britain to Limit Workers from Romania, Bulgaria

The British government is planning to restrict the numbers and categories of workers from Bulgaria and Romania who wish to come to the U.K., even after those two nations join the European Union on January 1.

It is not a total ban, but also not an open door policy.

Britain's Home Secretary John Reid announced that the government will place restrictions on the number of Bulgarians and Romanians wishing to come to the United Kingdom to work, even after those countries join the European Union.

"As regards skilled workers, we will be dictated by the needs of our economy," he said. "We will take as many as we need, from the skilled and highly skilled area. In terms of a category, which worries many people, which is unskilled or low skilled workers, there will be no automatic right to come and work in this country. We will cap those numbers, in the first instance, at 20,000."

The decision is a departure from the previous policy, under which Britain opened up its labor market completely to new EU members. The result was that hundreds of thousands of workers from eastern Europe flooded the British labor market.

The numbers were far higher than the government had predicted and resulted in increasing political pressure to place restrictions in the future.

A senior British immigration official, Liam Byrne, said that unskilled Romanian and Bulgarian workers would be allowed only in the agricultural and food processing sectors, while skilled workers would have greater access to jobs, although most would require work permits.

There were widespread fears among many western Europeans about the influx of workers after 10 new nations became part of the European Union in 2004. Many feared a flood of new, east European workers would take away local jobs, undercut wages and put an even greater strain on often struggling public and social services. British immigration official, Liam Byrne, said the migration of workers after 2004 actually helped boost the British economy. But, he said future migration needed to be managed better.