British Prime Minister David Cameron has said restrictions on EU migrant access to the UK's welfare system would be an "absolute requirement" in renegotiations. The UK is due to hold an EU in-out referendum by 2017.
Speaking in London Thursday, recently re-elected Prime Minister Cameron said that he would launch a "relentless drive" to reduce immigration to the UK.
According to estimates from the Office for National Statistics, net migration into Britain rose to roughly 318,000 in 2014 - up from 209,000 in 2013. Including returning UK nationals in the count, just over half of the total immigrants hailed from the EU, although there were more non-EU entrants into the UK than EU residents not holding British citizenship.
'Tougher, fairer, faster'
Having already missed his previous target to reduce annual net immigration to 100,000 by the general election two weeks ago, Cameron now plans to take a "tougher, fairer and faster" approach by introducing a new immigration bill to parliament next week and chairing a government taskforce.
"With this immigration bill, and our wider action, we will put an end to houses packed full of illegal workers; stop illegal migrants stalling deportation; give British people the skills to do the jobs Britain needs," Cameron said.
British police will also be given powers to seize the earnings of illegal migrant workers, and businesses will be barred from recruiting abroad without advertising in Britain.
Cameron was set to fly to Latvia later Thursday for the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, where he hopes to start renegotiating Britain's ties with the bloc ahead of the UK's planned in-out EU membership referendum.
"A strong country isn't one that pulls up the drawbridge ... It is one that controls immigration," Cameron said before departing. "Uncontrolled immigration can damage our labor market and push down wages."
Despite some signs of agreement with his European counterparts, it remains to be seen whether Cameron can completely convince the EU to adopt some of his desired reforms.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said he wants to offer Britain a fair deal, although that would be without major changes to EU treaties.
ksb/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)