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On immigration patrol with British police in Romania

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Media captionBritish police are visiting Romania to try to discourage residents from moving to the UK without guaranteed work

At the end of December, temporary work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians who come to the UK are being lifted, allowing them the same benefits and NHS care as other EU citizens. Panorama reporter Paul Kenyon has travelled to Romania with British police on an intelligence and information gathering mission. One of the aims of their visit is to discourage Romanians from moving to Britain without guaranteed work.

"Very good in Cricklewood."

A remote village in the Carpathian mountains is a strange place to hear someone talking about London.

Apata might look like any other rural, tranquil town in Romania but this one has a secret.

And the British police have come all this way to try to unlock it.

When a camp of Romanian squatters were evicted from Hendon football club in June, 65 out of the 68 people they found sleeping in makeshift shelters were from the village.

I have travelled here with Chief Superintendent Adrian Usher. He polices Barnet in north London, which he says is home to more Romanians than anywhere else in the UK, many of them from the Roma ethnic minority.

As if to illustrate the depth of the connection between Apata and the UK, one young girl runs up to me shouting English phrases she has picked up from villagers who have returned from London.

Ch Supt Usher wants to discourage Romanians from moving to Britain without guaranteed work.

"If you come to the UK without a named job to go to, then you're at really increased risk of being exploited or being the victim or perpetrator of crime," he told a group of villagers.

He said the welfare of Romanians who migrate to London was just as important a concern as that of Londoners themselves.

"I'm not here to comment on any particular issues at all. We're here to protect all the residents of London and that includes those people who come to London looking for work."

Nobody knows how many Romanians or Bulgarians will move to the UK in January. The UK government is not making any official predictions.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said he has no confidence in figures, published on his department's own website, predicting that about 13,000 will arrive. Pressure group Migration Watch has predicted 50,000 could come to the UK every year until 2019.

The Romanian Ambassador, Dr Ion Jinga, has said: "Because Romania has joined the European Union seven years ago... those Romanians who wanted to go and live and work abroad, they already did so."

He adds: "A very tiny minority of Romanians have chosen Britain as their work destination."

According to the Office for National Statistics, in July 2012 there were 94,000 people who were born in Romania and 47,000 people who were born in Bulgaria resident in the UK.

Grim camps

One resident, who told us his name was Alexandru, said as many as 400 villagers might have left for London already.

Alexandru said that his cousin was the first to leave for London and he followed him after he recommended moving there.

Alexandru said he left because there is so little work in Romania. He said villagers were prepared to live in grim camps in the UK for the chance of a foothold in the UK construction black market.

He showed me a cooker which he had been able to afford following his time spent working in London.

Alexandru plans to return to Cricklewood in north London in the New Year. It is an area where hundreds of Romanians are part of a growing underclass of migrants.

'No money left'

Back in the UK another immigrant, called Alex, told me he was from a small, mainly Roma village, over the hill from Apata. He said he had been working in the construction black market in Cricklewood for a few months.

He worked for cash-in-hand, paid no tax and had no national insurance number.

He spoke no English, had no qualifications and wanted his wife and children to join him from Romania.

He said he had struggled to make ends meet during his time in London.

"I worked for three days on someone's property," he said. "They drove me far away; I didn't even know where I was or how to come back. He took me with his car.

"After the work finished I was told to wait at home, he was going to pick me up the following day. I waited for two or three days and I tried to call but when no one answered. I had no money left and I didn't have anyone to borrow money from."

Alex was never paid. He has been forced to live in a shared room because paid work has been intermittent.

He plans to join the formal job market in January, when temporary work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians who come to the UK are being lifted.

Despite what appear major difficulties in gaining employment, he is confident he can make things work.

"I would bring my family here. I don't think it would be too difficult to look after them. I would rent two rooms and a kitchen if everything was convenient."

Despite talk of immigrants flooding the UK when these changes come into play, Romanians and Bulgarians have had the right to visa-free travel in the UK since 2007, when their countries joined the EU.

Since 2007, they have also had the right to work here if they were self-employed, had a particular expertise like doctors and nurses, or took seasonal agricultural work.

But there were temporary restrictions on the kind of jobs they could take. Employers had to apply for work permits, and migrants for an "accession worker card". Low-skilled workers were restricted to existing quota schemes in the agricultural and food processing sectors.

These restrictions will be dropped on 1 January 2014. Bulgarians and Romanians will also be entitled to claim the same benefits and NHS care as other EU citizens.

Panorama: The Romanians are Coming?, BBC One, Monday 16 December at 20:30 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.