Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron announced new restrictions on welfare benefits for immigrants in a speech in Ipswitch today.
He said unemployment benefits for Europeans living in the UK would end after six months unless immigrants could show they had a realistic chance of finding work, and immigrants would not qualify for housing assistance until they had lived and worked in the UK for two years.
He also announced the UK’s National Health Service would begin charging some temporary migrants for medical care and that the government would double fines on businesses that employ illegal workers while issuing biometric residence permits to make it easier to identify illegal immigrants.
"While I have always believed in the benefits of immigration, I have also always believed that immigration has to be properly controlled," Cameron said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Without proper controls, community confidence is sapped, resources are stretched and the benefits that immigration can bring are lost or forgotten."
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The speech marks the next step in a drive by Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government to bring net migration down from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands of people per year.
The issue of immigration has shot up the political agenda as Britain braces for a fresh influx of eastern Europeans after the European Union lifts work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians in 2014.
Immigrants' rights groups immediately criticized Cameron’s speech, the Guardian reported.
"This rhetoric may curtail rights to benefits on a minor scale, but relatively few migrants compared with 'indigenous' people actually claim benefit anyway,” Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said, according to the Guardian. “The real effect of this speech will be to further increase the intolerance and the hostile reception that immigrants are facing from some sections of society.”
--Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.