Half a million immigrants from eastern Europe in two years

Last updated at 12:46 07 July 2006

The number of Eastern Europeans who have come to work in Britain since EU expansion is more than a third higher than previously thought, a survey indicated today.

An extra 115,000 Poles above the 230,000 included in official figures may be working here, research commissioned by the BBC's Newsnight programme suggested.

Estimated across all nations which joined the EU in 2004, there would be 187,500 additional immigrant workers on top of the 375,000 currently on the worker register, making a grand total of 562,500 new arrivals.

A survey of 500 Polish workers in Britain showed only 64 per cent had joined the worker registration scheme. Self-employed workers are not required to sign the register.

The results of today's poll could contain one of the first indications of how many self-employed eastern Europeans - such as builders - may be in the UK on top of the Government's official figures.

Among Polish workers questioned, 30 per cent said they had not signed the register and the remaining 6 per cent had never heard of it.

Newsnight said the results indicated the Government had "seriously underestimated" the scale of immigration from the eight Eastern European countries which joined the EU on May 1 2004.

It was already known that research commissioned by the Government before EU expansion estimated annual applications would be between just 5,000 to 13,000.

The BBC survey - by the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism at the Universities of Surrey and Roehampton - also indicated that many more Poles were intending to stay long-term or permanently in Britain than previously thought.

More than 40 per cent said they wanted to stay at least two years, and 15 per cent - more than one in seven - had already decided to move here permanently.

Only one in three definitely intended to go home within two years.

Nearly a third intended to bring their families to Britain, or had already done so.

According to latest Government figures, 374,555 from the eight nations - including 228,235 Poles - registered for work here between May 2004 and the end of March this year.

The survey found that while unemployment and low wage rates were the main factor driving Poles to migrate to the UK, more than 40 per cent said it was easier to live in Britain than Poland, and a third said the UK offered better opportunities for personal or professional development.

About 90 per cent of those surveyed said they had been received well or very well by Britain.

Nearly one in seven said they were coming to ensure a better future for their children.

Two more Eastern European countries are due to join the EU on January 1 next year.

The Government has not yet indicated if workers from Romania and Bulgaria will enjoy full working rights, as with those eight former Communist countries which joined on May 1 2004.

One think-tank has suggested about 56,000 Romanian and Bulgarian workers will come to Britain during 2007.

As well as Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 from Eastern Europe, as well as the island nations of Malta and Cyprus.

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