With European elections fast approaching the hot topic of immigration has been fired to the top of the agenda in Gloucestershire.
Latest census figures show 20,000 EU migrants have now set up home in the county, but the debate over a possible cap continues to stoke fierce opinion.
This week, official figures are expected to show tens of thousands of eastern European migrants have moved to Britain for work in the last year at a time when border controls were being relaxed.
Economists from Oxford University predict that the figures will show at least 30,000 more Romanians and Bulgarians were working in the UK in the first three months of this year than during the same period in 2013.
Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West, Graham Watson, said freedom of movement within the EU should be welcomed.
“We are not talking about immigration in the sense of people coming into the EU from outside, we are talking about freedom of movement within the EU,” he said.
“It is a freedom that we enjoy, just as many Gloucester people will go abroad to work on a full time or part time basis to fill roles that are in demand in Germany, the Netherlands or elsewhere.
“This is something that applies to all European citizens.
“A freedom of movement allows you to live work study or marry in any other European Union country.
“The balance of the number of people who go abroad and the number who come here is not very different.
“Some 20,000 people in Gloucester is around three per cent of the county’s population. That is no different to any other point in history.
“People are coming over here because they can find jobs easily.
“The reason for that is because employers cannot find people locally who are willing to do those jobs.
“It is in care homes, on farms and in factories. Many people there have come from abroad.”
Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to travel to Britain without a visa since they joined the EU in 2007.
However, temporary restrictions were placed on employment, with work permits and quotas for low-skilled jobs in farming and food processing.
It resulted in most Romanians and Bulgarians opting for seasonal work such as fruit picking, unless they were self-employed.
Those restrictions ended on January 1, with Bulgarians and Romanians now entitled to claim the same benefits and NHS care as other EU citizens.
On Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics will publish an estimate of the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK between January and March this year, the first three months after the restrictions were lifted.
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, and a former ambassador to Iceland, said there would be “additional pressures” on schools, housing and the NHS from “an influx of people of this order”.
“The addition to the population has quite a significant impact on all of us, not least at a time of limited resources,” he said.