Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Migrant loophole 'lets in 20,000 a year': Rule allows EU nationals living here to bring their families into Britain without checks
Twenty thousand migrants a year are being let into Britain under a loophole that could be exploited by sham-marriage racketeers, a report warns today.
Under European law, EU nationals living in this country are allowed to bring in spouses or partners and their families from anywhere in the world with no checks or qualifications.
But British citizens who want to bring in a wife, husband or partner and family from abroad must first show they have an income of £18,600 or more to guarantee their dependants will not become a burden on the taxpayer.
The report by the MigrationWatch UK think-tank warns that 20,000 people a year are now coming to live in Britain as partners of a citizen of another EU country.
The loophole means the system is wide open to abuse by racketeers who can charge vast sums of money to set up a sham marriage, it said.
Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch said: ‘This is a loophole that must be closed and soon.
'It is absurd that EU citizens should be in a more favourable position than our own citizens.
'Furthermore, 20,000 per year is a very large number to admit unconditionally, especially compared to the government’s target of tens of thousands for annual net migration.’
Under the rules, a member of the family of an EU citizen - who has the right to travel to and work freely in Britain - can bring in their family under a ‘European Economic Area family permit’.
The permit is issued to any national of another EU country who is living in Britain and applies for it.
The report said: ‘A Polish or French person can marry someone from outside the EU, say Kenya or Vietnam, and can bring their spouse into the UK, even if they do not have a job earning £18,600 or indeed any job.
‘The couple would be entitled to full access to the welfare state. A British or non-EU settled resident would not be allowed to bring in a spouse without this minimum income.’
A number of Indian nationals from the former Portuguese territory of Goa are thought to have taken advantage of the loophole. Indians living in Goa can claim they have Portuguese heritage and so claim Portuguese citizenship.
They can then move directly to Britain – without ever having to visit Portugal – and bring a family without meeting any qualification test.
Immigrants told they can only get housing and healthcare if they have paid taxes into Britain's welfare system
Immigrants to Britain will not be able to claim benefits without proving they have contributed to the welfare state by working, under plans to be set out by the government.
Benefits, housing and healthcare will be limited to new arrivals who are willing to work and paid taxes to fund state-backed support.
A package of reforms will be included in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech including major law changes needed to limit the claims that can be made by Romanians and Bulgarians when controls are lifted next year.
Ministers will also use existing powers to enforce secondary legislation needed to stop ‘abuse’ of the tax and benefits system.
However, government sources say the details are yet to be fleshed out, and the flagship Immigration Bill is unlikely to be published in full until the autumn.
The moves will be seen as a reaction to the electoral threat posed by the UK Independence Party, which rocked the political establishment this week by taking votes and council seats from all the main parties.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage focussed on the impact of immigration, and how membership of the EU stopped Britain acting to limit it, during much of the local election campaign.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today signalled that the days of Britain’s benefits ‘free-for-all’ for foreigners were over.
He said: ‘We have been very clear that we totally get that there’s a heightened level of public anxiety about immigration.
‘We should stamp out abuse and make sure our public services and benefits are not simply a free-for-all, there needs to be some relation between what you put in and what you get out,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
Ministers will use the Welfare Reform Act, passed in the last year, to close a loophole that allowed migrants who no longer have a right to work here to carry on claiming benefits.
The test that decides who can access benefits will also be tightened. Migrants from the European Economic Area will be told that they can only receive Jobseeker’s Allowance if they are genuinely looking for a job.
It will include a tougher test to ensure they can speak English properly.
Migrants will be given only six months to find a job before benefits stop, unless they can prove they are close to getting a job.
David Cameron responded to fears about the appeal of Britain's benefits system in drawing immigrants to Britain. He put immigration minister Mark Harper in charge of a Cabinet committee examining the 'pull factors' which needed to be addressed. It also included ministers for health, housing, legal aid and welfare.
Ministers are in talks with other EU countries about whether jobless migrants can be the responsibility of their home country before they start claiming benefits in the UK.
Britain would also like to curb the £36million paid every year in child benefit to 24,000 families who do live in the UK.
The government also wants to end the idea that the NHS is a ‘free international health service’.
Efforts will be stepped up to recoup costs from migrants who use the NHS, through charging or requiring private medical insurance.
One in ten new rentals of social homes goes to a foreign national. New guidance from this spring will set a local residence test, to ensure people with ties to a local area can get priority for housing.
Migrants will have to have lived – and worked - in the UK for two years before their qualify for a state-funded home.
Illegal immigrants will also face tougher checks to stop them getting driving licences, credit cards, personal loans or a council house.
Mr Clegg said: ‘This Government will take further measures to ensure that, yes, of course we should be a welcoming, generous country to those people who want to come here and make a contribution.
‘But people who want to come here – worst of all illegally – or want to come here and sort of abuse our generosity and use our benefits and public services when they’re not really properly entitled to do so, yes, we need to clamp down on that,’ he told ITV’s Daybreak.
‘So, yes, to a sort of open and tolerant Britain, but no to abuse of the immigration system and that’s what we will make sure happens.’
The immigration bill expected in tomorrow's Queen's Speech will implement the major legal changes which cannot be made using secondary legislation.
Mr Cameron has promised to ‘fight back very robustly’ against any attempts by the courts or the EU to block British curbs on benefits for migrants.
In a speech in March, Mr the next stage of reform is to say, ‘Let’s not just reform the immigration system. Let’s make sure the housing system, the welfare system, the legal aid system, all of these things actually fit in – the health system – fit in with our immigration policy,’ sending a very clear message that people can come and work, but they can’t come for the wrong reasons.
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