Thursday, February 14, 2013

British PM pledges to overhaul benefits system for immigrants

David Cameron has pledged to overhaul the benefits system for immigrants after disclosing that he believes the current system does not pass the “simple common sense test”.

The Prime Minister said he wants to limit immigrants' access to British public services to ensure that the UK is “not a soft touch”.

Mr Cameron has said that he wants to reform the system allowing immigrants access to housing, the health service, the justice system and benefits.

His comments came amid a growing debate about the numbers of new migrants preparing to come to the UK next year.

Twenty nine million Bulgarians and Romanians will gain the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain in 2014 under European “freedom of movement” rules.

The Prime Minister chaired a ministerial working group yesterday during which he questioned members of the Cabinet about ways to withhold some benefits from immigrants.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said the Government will look at “every single one of our systems” to ensure that so-called benefits tourists are not taking advantage.

“Britain has always been an open and welcoming economy but it isn't right if our systems are being abused and that is why I chaired yesterday a committee meeting in Whitehall,” Mr Cameron said. “We are going to look at every single one of our systems - housing, health and benefits - to make sure we are not a soft touch for those who want to come here.

“I think it is absolutely vital that we get this right. There are many parts of our current arrangements which simply don’t pass a simple common sense test in terms of access to housing, access to the health service, access to justice and other things which should be the right of all British citizens but they’re not the right of anyone who just chooses to come here.”

The Home Office has repeatedly refused to put any number on the anticipated arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania.

Ministers are concerned about releasing the research into the possible number of arrivals, which they believe will be compared with a prediction that only 13,000 would move to Britain from Poland and other eastern European countries after 2004.

More than one million eastern Europeans then arrived in one of the biggest waves of immigration seen in the UK.

A report from MigrationWatch, a think tank, claimed that 50,000 people a year would arrive until 2019.


Indians welcome in Britain

There is “no limit” on the number of Indian nationals who can come to Britain to study and work, David Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister will next week visit India to tell prospective students that Britain will be “incredibly welcoming” to them if they come to this country to study and work.

Even as he promises voters to cap immigration and deter the arrival of people from countries like Bulgaria and Romania, Mr Cameron will use his trip to try to persuade more Indians to come to Britain.

University leaders and business groups say the Coalition’s tough rhetoric on immigration is harming Britain’s international competitiveness, concerns that are privately shared by some ministers.

Official figures earlier this year showed that the number of Indians studying at British universities fell by a quarter last year, to 30,000.

In an interview with India’s Sunrise TV before his trip, Mr Cameron said he wanted to make sure that Indians are not put off coming to the UK.

“The fact is today, as we stand, and this is going to be the case going forward, there is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all,” he said.

“All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a British university. And what’s more, after you’ve left a British university, if you can get a graduate-level job there is no limit to the amount of people who can stay and work, or the time that they can stay at work.”

The Coalition has set an annual cap on the number of non-Europeans who can come to work in the UK, and the Conservatives have promised to reduced net immigration to “tens of thousands” by the end of the Parliament.

Although there are annual limits on various groups of workers who are allowed into the UK, a change in the cap made last year means that there is no ceiling on the number of foreign graduates of British universities who can work here.

According to the Home Office, only foreign graduates earning at least £20,000 are permitted to stay in the UK. Officials insisted Mr Cameron’s words did not mark a change in that policy.

Some ministers privately worry that the Coalition has failed to explain its policies properly, something the Home Office has angrily denied.

However, Mr Cameron admitted that ministers have not been clear about immigration, saying: “I think we haven’t perhaps communicated this properly.”

He added: “Now we need to take that message out to talented young people in India and say if you want to make that choice, Britain will be incredibly welcoming. Of course we have to control immigration in all its forms, as any country would, but actually Britain’s got an amazing offer to make to students.

The Higher Education Statistics Authority says there were 29,900 Indian students in the UK in 2011/12, down from 39,090 the previous year.

Mr Cameron said: “We have 40,000 Indian students in Britain, I’m really proud of that, but the offer we’ve got – no limit on the numbers, no limit on how you can work in graduate jobs afterwards – I think is a great offer to make.”

The Prime Minister’s message to prospective Indian arrivals in the UK contrasts with his rhetoric on other would-be immigrants, particularly those from eastern Europe. Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria will be able to work freely in the UK next year, and some Conservatives fear a large influx of new workers.


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