After employment controls were lifted in January, the number of Romanians registering for UK national insurance increased sharply compared with the year before – from 18,000 to 100,000. The figure for Bulgarians rose from 10,000 to 30,000.
According to official estimates, half of these registrations are from new arrivals, suggesting that some of those already in the UK had been working illegally.
“My community is growing every day,” said Iris Radulian, project manager of My Romania Group, which provides support and advice to Romanians arriving in the UK.
“People arrive with qualifications, but they don’t know what a national insurance number is, or how to get one.
“Like any community, there are a range of people from Romania, but they don’t understand British processes yet and aren’t confident with the language, so from the outside they look all the same.”
Ms Radulian helps Romanians send their certificates to NARIC, the UK agency that translates international degrees into British qualifications. She has also created a network of Romanian accountants, barristers, solicitors and journalists who can advise immigrants, and runs schools where children are taught about their Romanian heritage while their parents learn English next door.
Ms Radulian said London attracted more migrants than other British cities because of the support network and the proximity of the embassy.
She said the west London borough of Brent was the most popular destination for Romanians, with 15,000 registered migrants, but that other areas of London, such as Harrow, Barnet, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge and Enfield, also had large eastern European populations.
Existing immigrants help arrivals settle in, and often two or three will share a room to save on accommodation.
Larisa Arama, manager of My Own Media, which publishes the Bulgarian newspaper Rodina News and the Romanian Ziarul Romanesc, said migrant communities had great potential but were held back by a lack of information. “These are proud people – I hear them telling me all the time they don’t want to be on benefits, or that they are saving for mortgages,” she said. “But they are not confident because they don’t know the rules.”
The Romanian and Bulgarian embassies did not respond to requests for comment.
One Romanian woman who recently moved to London from Italy said she and her husband had decided to come to the UK because friends had told them the schools were better. “We know it is very expensive, but my husband, thank God, has found work. I have a degree in law, in jury science, and I hope to find something here, too.”
She said she had felt much more respected here than in Italy: “In Italy, it is difficult to find a job, or maintain a job . . . but here I haven’t met English people who make you feel like strangers.”
This year, research by University College London found that EU immigrants made a large net contribution to the UK economy.