LONDON, Oct 24 (Reuters) Britain and Ireland will restrict the influx of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania after they join the European Union in January in a shift from the open-door policy adopted towards other eastern Europeans.
The controls, announced by both countries today, respond to growing public concern in the bloc about floods of migrant workers who undercut residents and crowd public services following the EU's enlargement in 2004.
Similar measures are expected to be applied by many western EU members, though Slovakia announced an open-door policy last week.
Britain's restrictions, to be reviewed annually, seek to limit numbers of low-skilled migrants from the two states.
''The UK will maintain controls on Romania and Bulgaria's access to jobs for a transitional period,'' Home Secretary (Interior Minister) John Reid said in a statement.
The move comes after London grossly underestimated the numbers of eastern European workers coming to Britain following the EU's eastward expansion and as Prime Minister Tony Blair's government comes under public pressure over rising immigration.
In response, Bulgaria said today it would consider reciprocal measures against Britain.
''We think ... such a decision puts us in an unequal position compared with the 10 new EU member states who joined in 2004,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev said in a statement.
''The possibility of reciprocal measures from the Bulgarian side will be discussed as concerns Britain or any other EU member states who impose restrictions for the free movement of workers.'' Britain won favour with the EU newcomers when it offered their workers unfettered access. Sweden and Ireland were the only other two EU countries that adopted the open-door policy.
But the government said in August more than 400,000 workers from the eight former communist states had come to Britain, far higher than official forecasts that between 5,000 and 13,000 new immigrants would arrive each year.
EU REGRETS The EU Commission said it was the discretion of member states to impose restrictions but it opposed controls.
Critics of controls say they will encourage more immigrants to work illegally since Bulgarians and Romanians will have the freedom to live and travel across the bloc from January.
In Britain, low-skilled workers from Bulgaria and Romania will be restricted to the food-processing and agriculture sectors under a quota system, Reid said.
Workers with specialist skills must prove they are doing jobs that cannot be filled by residents and meet tests on qualifications and earnings.
Students can take part-time work provided they are enrolled in an approved college. Self-employed workers retain their right to set up a business as agreed in the EU's accession treaty.
''We look forward to welcoming Romanian and Bulgarian workers here, provided that they comply with our rules and obey the law,'' Reid said.
The new rules will not impact workers from the countries that joined the bloc in 2004.
Reuters BDP GC1813