Migrant workers: Q&A

What and who are the eight accession countries?
On 1 May 2004, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary and Poland joined the European Union. Known as the A8, the citizens of these countries were allowed to work and live legally in the UK.

How many have come so far?
450,000 have registered with the government’s worker registration scheme but that doesn’t include self-employed people which could bloat numbers by a further 100,000. Initial expectations were for 20,000 a year to arrive. Around 12,500 are care home and domiciliary care workers. The largest numbers – 250,000 – come from Poland.

What rights do they have?
A8 citizens can work in the UK – one of only a handful of European countries to grant working rights – and have the same employment rights as UK citizens. As long as they are registered they are entitled to some basic benefits, such as housing benefit, council tax benefit and tax credits, while they are working. Only once they have worked for a 12-month period, without a break of more than 30 days, can they access social, health and education services and claim jobseeker’s allowance.

What next?
Romania and Bulgaria are due to join the EU in 2007 making their citizens eligible to work in the UK. It has raised fears among some of another large influx in migrant workers and even prompted some government ministers to talk about the process being “properly controlled”.

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