Jobs not ‘benefit tourism’ the reason migrants move around EU, says report
Report dispels notion abusing welfare systems is main motive
Kamal, a 25-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who fled Aleppo two months ago, removes a banner on a footbridge after ending a demonstration at the ferry terminal in Calais, northern France, last week. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters.
There is no evidence EU citizens who move to another member state are “more intensive users” of social welfare than nationals of that member state, a study commissioned by the European Commission has found.
The report, which will be published in the coming days and has been seen by The Irish Times, is likely to reignite the debate about so-called “benefit tourism” – people moving to another country to receive social benefits rather than to work.
The UK has raised concerns about migrants’ access to benefits, with David Cameron pledging to put the issue at the heart of his planned “renegotiation” of the relationship with the EU.
Yesterday, the British government unveiled an immigration Bill that seeks to combat illegal immigration and prevent migrants claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. The legislation would oblige temporary migrants, such as overseas students, to make a contribution to the NHS, while applicants for a bank account or driving licence would need to prove their legal residency status.
The European Commission report by consultancy firm ICF GHK was commissioned “as a response to concerns from some EU member states about the application of EU law on social security to migrants”.
It found that migrants to European member states are more likely to be unemployed than nationals. While migration had risen considerably since 2003, “non-active” EU migrants – those not in employment, including pensioners, students and single parents – represented 0.7-1 per cent of the total EU population.
The rate of “economic non-activity” among EU migrants declined between 2005 and 2012 from 47 to 33 per cent, the report found, while two-thirds of “non-active” migrants had previously worked in the country of residence: “Evidence shows that the vast majority of migrants move to find or take up employment . . .
“[There is] little evidence in the literature and stakeholder consultations to suggest that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate and reside in a different member state is benefit-related as opposed to work- or family-related.
“This is underpinned by data which show that, in most countries, immigrants are not more intensive users of welfare than nationals.”
The report echoes a study published this month by the Centre for European Reform which finds that EU immigrants are net contributors to the UK treasury and far less likely to take up welfare benefits than the British population, though it found immigration from other member states is forcing up housing costs.
The reports come as debate about so-called “welfare tourism” is set to intensify. From January 1st, migrants from Romania and Bulgaria will be permitted to work in all EU countries without a work permit.
While both countries joined the EU in 2007, a number of countries, including Britain, imposed restrictions on the right of nationals to work. They will expire at the end of the year.
In May, the European Commission referred the UK to the European Court of Justice over its application of EU social security rules. The commission argues that some EU migrants in the UK have been denied benefits to which they are entitled, because the UK is applying “right of residence” rules rather than the “habitual residence” test required by EU law.
Earlier this week, it emerged the British government had no records of how many nonBritish European citizens claim welfare benefits.