Home Secretary Theresa May is considering reforms to ‘free movement’ of EU workers, in part to reverse court judgments, the Guardian reports this week.
May is looking into a number of wide-ranging treaty busting restrictions on the European Union’s free movement of workers, including access to the UK for dependants of EU citizens, and fresh curbs on access to benefits for EU citizens.
The Home Secretary believes she can make changes to one of the central pillars of the EU with the support of other member states such as the Netherlands, although Foreign Office sources are concerned that any curbs could lead to reprisals for UK citizens living abroad, such as UK pensioners in Spain.
May’s review is probably the most politically striking move among a raft of EU initiatives floated by Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday in an attempt to mollify his eurosceptic backbenchers, including a potential veto of the next EU budget. He said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “People in Europe know I mean what I say … they know I’m capable of saying no.”
Cameron is also backing long-term plans to introduce a two-tier EU budget in which single-currency member states contribute more than those outside the euro.
The UK Government has already announced a review of all EU competences ahead of negotiations with the EU that might lead to a referendum or endorsement at an election. Cameron refused to be drawn on the date of such a referendum, but the move will be a vote winner at a time when the average Brit is fed up with the EU telling Britain what it can and cannot do.
He said there would be no in/out referendum, because the speed of change in Europe meant that the UK needed to reach a fresh settlement with Brussels that could then be put to the public after the next general election.
Cameron described rival party and anti-European UKIP as a complete waste of time, but he realises that he needs to slow the drain of anti-European sentiment to that party with more than just rhetoric.
It had been thought there was little momentum to review the free movement of EU workers on the basis that it is such a central pillar of the EU’s founding principles. But May believes there are reforms that could be made in part to reverse previous European court of justice judgments that have in effect redefined free movement as available to citizens rather than merely workers.
May has also been struck by the lack of high-quality academic evidence on why members of EU states often choose Britain to seek work and reside in as opposed to other EU countries.
The EU has been in a long legal dispute with the UK over the UK’s habitual residence test, which limits benefit claims by new arrivals. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, at one point last year said that if the UK test was abandoned, the cost to the UK could be more than £2bn a year; he later revised this figure to £155m.
Currently, citizens of European economic area (EEA) countries who want to claim unemployment benefit have to pass an habitual residence test, proving they intend to settle in the UK or have a legal right to reside in the country.
In theory, EU migrants without a job who are not a dependent of a worker or self-employed person, or are judged to be a burden on public funds, currently fail the test. Access to other social security benefits are subject to different tests.
In practice, everybody knows the benefits and NHS EHIC system is out of control and in a state of shambles.
May wants to review the way EU rules allow partners of EU citizens to reside in the EU. Once they enter the territory of the host member state, non-EU family members enjoy the same right of residence as the person they are accompanying, provided they hold a valid passport. The free movement directive extends the right to equal treatment – including access to social assistance – to non-EU family members who have the right of residence or permanent residence in the host member state.
The Government is struggling to reach their target of slashing the overall number of immigrants to the UK to below 100,000, partly due to her inability to slap any direct controls on EU migrants. EU migration accounted for 27% of total UK net immigration in 2010, a majority of which came from the eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004.
Even eurosceptic groups such as Open Europe accept that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests most migrants from EU countries have come to the UK in search of work rather than to take advantage of the UK’s welfare system.
Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband, who was part of the former Government that signed up to EU expansion, now says that EU immigration can increase competition at the low-skill end of the labour market, driving down wages and leaving younger workers struggling to find work.
Non-EU family members have the right to obtain entry visas to the EU, where required, through an accelerated EEA rules and procedures.
It is estimated there were just over two million nationals of other EU member states living in the UK in the year to March 2011, which is probably less than the number of retired Brits living in Spain and France alone.
The Home Office is also looking at tighter transitional controls on new member states, which could be seen as ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’.
Romania and Bulgaria are due to be given full free movement in 2014, after a seven-year restriction on working in the UK. May did not say whether or not restrictions could or would be extended.
Even as members of the European Union, Bulgarians and Romanians do not enjoy the same rights to work as the earlier A8 Eastern European EU accession countries such as Poland and Latvia.
Employers often overlook the fact that they cannot employ a Romanian or Bulgarian worker in the same way they can a Polish or other A8 accession country citizen.
Possession of an NI number does not mean a person has the right to work in the UK and is not a ‘statutory defence’ for an employer facing charges or a £10,000 fine for illegal employment.
Many Romanians and Bulgarians register as self employed and start businesses, which is allowed, or work and study on a Yellow Card Visa.
Other countries have also imposed restrictions on the newest EU members and debt ridden Spain is now demanding proof from anyone from the EU who wants to live there for more than three months that they will not become a burden on the state.
With Europe facing a financial crisis and the possible meltdown of the Euro, Immigration Matters recently asked if the EU’s Free Movement dream is falling apart along with the rest of its European super state ideology?
If you need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
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