Britain sets out new test to limit EU migrant benefits

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Britain laid out new rules on Wednesday (19 February) designed to limit the access that migrants from other European Union states have to the country's welfare system.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to curb immigration into Britain in an effort to quell concerns about migrants entering the country to claim benefits, referred to as 'benefits tourism'. The move may also stop voters defecting to the anti-immigration UK Independence Party.

The new test, due to come into effect on March 1, sets a minimum income threshold to determine whether a migrant working in the UK should have access to the wider suite of benefits that comes with being classed as a worker rather than a jobseeker.

"The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system," said Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

EU officials have repeatedly criticised Britain for its increasingly tough approach on immigration, which has compounded already tense relations between Brussels and London over Britain's desire to renegotiate its 40-year-old relationship with the EU.

But, Cameron is keen to be seen taking a tough stance on immigration to appease eurosceptic lawmakers in his Conservative party.

He has already said Britain will stop helping jobless immigrants with their housing costs from April, and has brought in new rules to stop EU migrants being able to claim welfare benefits as soon as they arrive in the country.

Under the new system anyone earning 150 pounds a week, equivalent to working 24 hours a week at the British minimum wage, will be classed as a worker. Anyone earning less than that will face further scrutiny to see whether their economic activity falls into the EU classification of "genuine and effective", or instead is classed as "marginal and ancillary".

"These reforms will ensure we have a fair system – one which provides support for genuine workers and jobseekers, but does not allow people to come to our country and take advantage of our benefits system," Duncan Smith said.

Migrants without worker status will be ineligible for housing, pensions and other benefits. The new rules will also apply to nationals from Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.


UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants to place a cap on workers and cut immigrationfrom Europe as he seeks to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the European Union.

>> Read: Cameron to ask Brussels for cap on EU migrants

Cameron said the UK needs to change the way migrants can claim benefits and the number coming over to work, as he set out key areas for discussion with other EU members.

Cameron's Conservative Party recently rushed through a bill curbing claimants' access to benefits. The package, which coincided with the lifting of labour restrictions, would stop EU citizens from lodging a claim until they had been in the country for three months.

France and Germany accused Cameron of treating the EU like an "à la carte menu" from which he could pick powers. The opposition Labour Party said Britain risked sleepwalking towards EU exit.

But Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Italy share Britain's concerns about unfettered European immigration and want the issue of free movement and social security addressed.

>> Read: Germany readies response to ‘poverty immigration’

José Manuel Barroso, the EU Commission President, warned against "narrow, chauvinistic" attitudes and populism in the immigration debate.

>> Read: Barroso scolds ‘chauvinistic’ British attitude on immigration