EU to 'scrutinise' Cameron's migrant benefits plan

30.07.14 @ 09:15

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The British government announced on Tuesday (29 July) it will tighten benefits for unemployed migrants from the EU in plans the European Commission has said it will examine closely.

  • Cameron visits staff at British supermarket chain (Photo: gov.uk)

Under the proposals, London is to reduce to three months - down from six months - the time EU migrants without realistic job prospects can claim welfare.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was about "addressing the magnetic pull of Britain’s benefits system".

Other measures include banning "overseas only recruitment" and "massively" restricting the number of jobs automatically put on an EU jobs portal. "This is about putting British residents first," he said.

The move comes on top of changes announced last year under which EU migrants may only claim unemployment benefits after three months of being in the UK.

The new measures are seen as an attempt to try and counter the popularity of the UK Independence Party ahead of next year's general election.

The party topped the polls in the May EU vote and has been positioning itself as the only party willing to tackle immigration.

The European Commission, for its part, said Cameron's proposals will be "scrutinised" carefully once the details are clear.

"[Migrant workers are] of immense economic benefit to the member states in terms, in particular of responding to skills gaps and labour shortages," a commission spokesperson said on Tuesday.

He also noted that jobseekers’ allowance for immigrants is normally paid by “the country where they were previously seeking work”.

Immigration has been a hot topic in the UK for several years with the government launching a strong campaign at both the national and EU level against so-called welfare tourism.

However the numbers remain foggy, including on how much is spent by the UK on welfare payments to other EU nationals.

A European Commission study early this year found that the "vast majority" of EU migrants moving to another member states do so to work or to look for work and are more likely - because they are younger - to be in employment than the nationals of the host country.

Meanwhile, the UK's own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said that migrants benefit the country's economy.

In a report published last year, it said that more migrants are needed to fund the costs of pensions and social welfare payments.

A migration report leaked to the BBC earlier this month also found that EU migrants have had a largely positive effect and cited evidence suggesting they are less likely to use benefits than Britons.

The study, commissioned by the British government, was supposed to be ready last year but formal publication has been delayed indefinitely, reportedly because it was considered too positive.