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More pressure will be put on Kent's education, health and crime workers as thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians are expected to come into the county over the next few years.
That’s the message from the leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter, as the county sees working restrictions for those countries lifted from today.
Despite the Government implementing tough new benefit restrictions on migrants who wish to live and work in Britain, Paul Carter believes Kent is still an attractive option for young Bulgarian and Romanian workers who wish to earn higher wages.
He said: “We must have controlled immigration that is proportional to an expanding economy. Having uncontrolled immigration against an economy that is still recovering from recession is still very dangerous.
“The change in regulation will help, but I think there will be a continuing growth of eastern Europeans coming to work in this county.”
It is still unclear how many migrants will come to Kent in the coming weeks and months.
A report released by Kent County Council in October estimated around 8,600 people from both countries could migrate to Kent in the next five to 10 years.
Politicians and councillors in Kent have expressed concern that increased migration will only stretch the demand on local government services and could create ‘township ghettos’ in some towns like Maidstone.
Paul Carter added: “I think more people looking to work here will only put added pressures on education, health and sadly crime.
“A significant amount of criminality is being carried out in parts of Kent by people from Eastern Europe.
“Everyone’s seen the Roma issues in Boston and in Sheffield, in those places it’s putting significant additional burdens on those local authorities and we have a significant problem in East Kent.
“Many will come for the right reasons and help contribute to the county but there are a significant number that don’t.”
Some see Paul Carter’s comments as unfair and believe the KCC leader is scaremongering the immigration issue to detract from other problems facing the county.
Radu Stancu from Bucharest has been studying for his PhD in physics at the University of Kent for the last two years.
From speaking to people back home he insists the changes do not mean people will be queuing to get into Kent this year.
He said: “I don’t think a lot of people will just flood to into the country because of the change to working restrictions.
“Romania has been a member of the European Union since 2007, since then people have had freedom to come to the UK without a visa, whoever wanted to come here to work in a number of fields has already done so.
“It’s a very big mistake to compare lifting working restrictions with claiming benefits. It’s an idea sold by many politicians in the UK and I think it is very unfair because people are mainly coming with good intentions.
“Romanians don’t come here for free money.
“If they do come, they will be here for hard work and for temporary jobs, like seasonal work often taken on because it is work British people do not want to do.”
Fellow Romanian student, Laura Vrabie, who has studied sociology in Canterbury for the last three years said she is worried increased negativity on foreign workers means she wouldn’t be welcome if she wanted to stay to work in Britain.
She said: “I think for some people the simple fact that I’m a Romanian may count against me if I wanted to stay in Kent or go to another part of the UK to look for work.”
Many people on the streets of Dover, one of Kent’s coastal towns most affected by immigration over the last decade, have mixed views about what today’s changes will mean.
Young mum, Tina Saunders, 36 from Dover, said: “I am concerned about the restrictions being lifted, many of them are taking council homes from people like myself.
“We can’t get on the council list to get a house, because they are being offered to foreigners first.”
But Peter Rattigan, 32, also from the town, doesn’t think today’s changes will matter or encourage people to come to Kent - insisting migration could in fact benefit Kent.
“I think there are too many people in this country that are not willing to work and we need people do the jobs that we arn’t willing to do.”
“We should all be free to go and work where we want and as long as those people coming over are working and not abusing the system then what does it matter?”
But, a woman who arrived in Dover from the Czech Republic 10 years ago, who didn't want to be named, warned she believes migrants seeking work in 2014 still view Britain as a ‘soft touch’ and that many will be looking to take advantage of benefits, jobs and housing.
“If I compare it to my country it is so much easier here to get a council house and to be on the dole and get benefits than it is back home.
“I can understand why people in Kent are upset, but at the same time I know a lot of English people who also sit on the dole and don’t work.”
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