Andrew Thorpe-Apps argues that measures can be taken to limit the ‘pull factors’ attracting EU migrants.
The Government has refused to issue official estimates of the number of migrants expected to come from Romania and Bulgaria when transitional controls are removed at the end of this year. But a leading think-tank has suggested that the UK can expect around 250,000 arrivals over the next five years. The actual number could be even higher as the 2.5 million Roma in Bulgaria and Romania are a ‘wild card’.
Immigration controls between EU States are only permissible in ‘exceptional’ circumstances under EU law. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding insists Britain cannot restrict the freedom of movement of Bulgarians and Romanians when transitional controls expire. This means a further 29 million people will have unrestricted access to the UK labour market, despite 79% of the British public wanting transitional controls to be extended.
However, there are measures which can be taken to discourage migration within the EU legal framework. Now that the government’s touted ‘negative ad campaign’ has been scrapped, focus can be given to ensuring that Britain’s benefit system is not a further ‘pull factor’ for A2 nationals, such as the 44% of Bulgarians who live below the poverty line. As David Cameron stated, the present system fails the ‘simple common sense test’. Mr Cameron has set up a ministerial Cabinet committee to examine the rules on EU migrants’ access to benefits.
Britain must cooperate with other EU Member States, many of whom share concerns about A2 immigration. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has warned of A2 ‘poverty immigration’. Spain, which already has around 900,000 Romanian nationals, is also concerned. There should be collective Member State lobbying of Brussels to reform the rules on welfare payments to residents from elsewhere in the EU. Britain is supported in arguing for a strengthening of the ‘habitual residency test’ by the Netherlands and Sweden. Collective action by Member States would make it difficult for the EU Commission to take action against apparent infringements.
The Freedom of Movement Directive 2004/38/EC should be interpreted so that only those with a pre-arranged job are entitled to come and live in the UK. Job seekers should not be entitled to travel to the UK with their families. If such individuals cannot support themselves, they should not be entitled to ‘job seekers allowance’, but rather given a free ticket home. Further, jobless EU migrants should be forced to have private health insurance. However, such a move would be inconsistent with current EU law.
EU migrants should only be able to access UK benefits on a contributory basis, meaning that they must have paid enough tax and national insurance first. Iain Duncan Smith is correct in seeking to strengthen the ‘habitual residency test’, which sets out the minimum amount of time one must live in Britain before being eligible for benefits. Presently, this ‘test’ is poorly defined and too easily fulfilled. Migrants should be required to show that they have worked for at least six months in the UK and, preferably, that they have a lease on a home of a year, rather than just a few months.
Child benefit should no longer be paid to non-resident children. The ability of EU migrants to claim child benefit for children living abroad is likely to encourage further migration. This anomaly costs the UK taxpayer an estimated £55million per year. Child benefit for two children equals a week’s take-home pay at the minimum wage in Romania.
The UK government must work with other Member States in pressuring the Commission to allow for these necessary changes to the welfare system.