Monday 1 July marks a significant event in the history of the Balkan state of Croatia as it finally accedes to the European Union - and will simultaneously see the imposition of legal restrictions on Croatians who come to the UK as the government attempts to limit the damage to net migration figures.

Croatia will become the second of the seven countries that once made up the old state of Yugoslavia to join its European neighbours in the continent's free trade bloc. Slovenia joined in the first wave of Eastern European expansion in 2004, while the others (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and FYR Macedonia) are at various stages of negotiation with a view to joining in the future.

With Albania having submitted an application and Turkey also a candidate country, that could leave Belarus, the Ukraine, Moldova and Russia as the only countries in Europe without some form of free movement agreement with the UK (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and various microstates such as Andorra, while not member states of the EU, are part of the European Economic Area, whilst Switzerland also has special agreements in place).

But this does not necessarily sit well with the Coalition Government's stated aim of reducing net migration, and restrictions have been announced on Croatians that are likely to be in place for seven years. The law is set out in the Accession of Croatia (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2013, and is similar in content to the restrictions in place for Romanians and Bulgarians who, unlike other EU citizens, currently have to register to work in the UK. However, as a member state is only allowed to place restrictions on new countries for an initial five years with the possibility of extending this by another two, the limitations for Bulgarians and Romanians are due to expire on 1 January 2014.

For Croatians, meanwhile, the long and hard road to the free movement rights that British citizens these days take for granted has an end in sight. Croatia's recent history has been troubled and dark; emerging from life behind the Iron Curtain as part of Socialist Yugoslavia, the 90s brought the country territorial wars and ethnic strife which saw genocide on a scale that Europe thought it would never see again. But steady economic gains have been made that have allowed Croatians to move on with their lives and take their place as equal partners among the nations of Europe.