Germany to impose strict welfare curbs for EU immigrants

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Berlin (AFP)

EU citizens arriving in Germany without a job will have to wait five years before they can claim unemployment benefits, according to a new law approved by the German government on Wednesday.

The strict new measure comes after a federal court ruled last year that every EU citizen has the right to claim benefits once he or she has resided in Germany for six months, sparking fears of "welfare tourism" from countries with a lower standard of living.

The draft law still has to be approved by parliament.

"It's clear that anyone who lives here, works here and pays their contributions is also entitled to the benefits of our social system," said Labour Minister Andrea Nahles after the cabinet adopted the legislation.

But for those "who have never worked here and rely on state financial aid to survive, the principle applies that they should claim livelihood benefits from their home country."

The legislation is in part an attempt to appease critics who accuse EU citizens from poorer nations of moving to Germany's welfare state without the intention of ever getting a job.

The project took on fresh urgency after British Prime Minister David Cameron, in his attempt to win concessions from Brussels ahead of the Brexit vote, won the right to impose similar limits on benefits for EU immigrants.

Under the draft text agreed on Wednesday, unemployed EU nationals will be ineligible for social assistance until they have legally lived in Germany for at least five years.

Those affected by the change in the law will however be entitled to claim a bridging subsistence allowance of one month.

A total of 474,000 EU immigrants received social assistance in June, according to Germany's federal employment agency, though not all of them were unemployed.

Citizens from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania accounted for the most claims.