London: In a bid to cut down on immigration, British Prime Minister David Cameron today announced a string of tough measures to over-turn the country`s "soft touch" image, saying new immigrants should not expect benefits like a "home on arrival".
"Under the last government, immigration in this country was too high and out of control. Put simply, Britain was a soft touch," he said during his long-awaited speech on immigration.
"There are 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.
These concerns are not just legitimate; they are right and it is a fundamental duty of every mainstream politician to address them.
We cannot have a culture of something for nothing. New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival," he said during a keynote address at University Campus Suffolk on the Ipswich Waterfront.
Under some of the latest measures announced today, access to social housing will be linked to new rigorous tests and changes to healthcare would be introduced, with the UK getting "better at reciprocal charging" of foreign governments for treatment provided to non-working overseas nationals.
Unemployment benefits for non-UK nationals will cease at the end of six months from early next year, largely aimed at countering fears of an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians once movement restrictions are lifted on the relatively new European Union (EU) member-states at the end of this year.
According to the Prime Minister, immigrants in future would be "subject to full conditionality and work search requirements and you will have to show you are genuinely seeking employment if you fail that test, you will lose your benefit."
"And as a migrant, we`re only going to give you six months to be a job-seeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.
We`re going to make that assessment a real and robust one and, yes, it`s going to include whether your ability to speak English is a barrier to work," he said.
In relation to illegal immigrants, the Conservative party leader declared that private landlords would face fines if their tenants were found to be illegal staying in the country.
The Labour party attacked the speech as packed with "overblown promises" and "rhetoric".
"The number of people refused entry to the UK has dropped by 50 per cent, the number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control has trebled, the number of illegal immigrants deported has gone down, the number of foreign prisoners removed has gone down and the number of businesses fined for employing illegal workers has gone down," shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said.
Reports in the British media also countered Cameron`s claims that his latest measures would make a major dent in immigration figures.
According to official data, migrants from European Economic Area (EEA), which accounts for anyone from the EU plus Norway and Switzerland, only accounted for "10 million-20 million pounds of costs" that were not recouped from other countries within the EEA.
Critics pointed out that this formed only a very small part of the total National Health Service (NHS) costs of more than 100 billion pounds.
Also, foreigners have reportedly taken up fewer than one in 10 of social housing in the past four years.
But the Prime Minister`s official spokesperson insisted that the new series of measures "would play a significant part in reducing the pull factors" for foreigners wanting to move to the UK.
The Tory-led coalition`s recent toughening immigration stance comes in the wake of the growing influence of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
The Eurosceptic right-wing party has been at the forefront of playing on fears of a Romanian and Bulgarian influx.
UKIP`s success in the recent Eastleigh byelection, when it beat the Tories to take second place, prompted all three main parties to re-examine their immigration policies.
On Friday, the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, made his own blistering speech on immigration in which he called for 1,000 pounds deposits to be demanded for visa applicants from "high risk" countries with the money repaid when they leave the UK.
He was warned by Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, that the policy would "end in tears".