By William James
LONDON Feb 19 Britain laid out new rules on
Wednesday designed to limit the access that migrants from other
European Union states have to the country's welfare system.
The European Commission, which has previously warned Britain
that European Union Freedom of movement rules were
non-negotiable, said it would look closely at whether the
prosposals were against EU law.
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
The new test, due to come into effect on March 1, sets a
minimum income threshold. That threshold will determine whether
a migrant working in the UK should have access to the wider set
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. That has compounded
already tense relations between Brussels and London over the
UK's desire to renegotiate its 40-year-old relationship with the
A spokesman for the European Commission warned that EU
member states must not discriminate against workers from other
member states, and ranking them according to the amount they
earned was not compatible with EU law.
"The European Commission will scrutinise very closely the
latest measures announced by the UK to ensure their full
compliance with EU law," he told reporters.
Cameron is keen to be seen taking a tough stance on
immigration to appease euro-sceptic lawmakers in his
Conservative party. He needs to stop voters from defecting to
the anti-immigration UK Independence Party, which threatens to
split the centre-right vote in a national election next year.
He has already said Britain will stop helping jobless
immigrants with their housing costs from April and has brought
in new rules to prevent EU migrants from claiming 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. Those earning less will face
further scrutiny to see whether their economic activity falls
into the EU classification of "genuine and effective" or 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.