David Cameron, the UK prime minister, has announced a crackdown on illegal immigration, saying that he plans to show those targeted “the door” and rein in welfare benefits that he believes act as incentives for foreigners to attempt to migrate.
Under the new policy, fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants would be doubled and landlords who rent out housing to illegal immigrants could also face fines, Cameron said.
With Romanians and Bulgarians winning the right to work in Britain next year, the prime minister said he was addressing “concerns, deeply held, that some people might be able to come and take advantage of our generosity without making a proper contribution to our country”.
Cameron told an audience of students at University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich that he wanted to stop Britain’s welfare system being “a soft touch”.
“Put simply, when it comes to illegal migrants, we’re rolling up that red carpet … and showing them the door,” he said.
Immigration reform has become a key concern for voters ahead of a scheduled 2015 election, polls show.
“Net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands,” said Cameron.
In measures that will apply to all citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) – the 27-nation European Union plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – immigrants will have to wait up to five years for social housing and will be subject to tougher “reciprocal charging” requirements when using the National Health Service, meaning their own country will have to pay.
Cameron said public fears about uncontrolled immigration and the resulting pressure on public services and the rapid pace of change were fair.
“These concerns are not just legitimate – they are right and it is a fundamental duty of every mainstream politician to address them,” he said.
‘Something for nothing’
Cameron announced new measures that would make it more difficult for EEA nationals to claim welfare benefits, with payments stopped after six months if recipients could not show that they had a good chance of obtaining employment.
He also said newcomers would face a much harder test to see if they were eligible for income-related benefits.
“Ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare. We’re going to give migrants from the EEA a very clear message,” he said.
In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission said the EU executive would need to ensure any proposals were legal.
Cameron said he would contest any challenge “very robustly”.
Last Friday, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat party, with whom Cameron’s Conservative Party have formed a coalition, said Britain was also considering obliging visitors from “high-risk” countries to pay a returnable cash bond to deter them from overstaying.