The European Court of Justice has ruled that the UK government can stop new migrants receiving child welfare payments. The ruling could provide a boost to those campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU.
The ruling by the European Union's top court will mean migrants from other European Countries may continue miss out on certain welfare payments, including child benefit, when they live in Britain.
The Luxembourg-based court agreed that exisiting British welfare eligibility rules are valid, despite a three year legal case by the European Commission.
Unlike most EU countries, the UK applies a "right to reside" test, which its own nationals usually meet automatically, while other EU citizens have to provide further proof.
In a case brought under the previous Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the EU's executive arm complained that the rule discriminates against foreign EU citizens living in Britain, which is illegal under EU rules.
The British government says it's keen to prevent migrants arriving without the ability to support themselves, and then relying on welfare.
Britain differs from most other EU countries as it doesn't require workers to pay into its social security system before receiving welfare.
The Luxembourg-based judges recognized that the extra requirement "gives rise to unequal treatment," but argued that this can be justified by the need to protect British finances.
The ruling relates predominantly to family welfare payments such as child benefit and child tax credits, which are funded from general taxation.
Welfare a divisive issue
The issue of welfare payments to migrants has been a hot button issue in the lead up to Britain's June 23 referendum on EU membership. So-called Brexit campaigners have highlighted the cost of providing migrant welfare to Britain's public finances.
Earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron secured a deal to restrict new workers' access to welfare for four years. The "safeguard mechanism" was agreed with other EU countries in a bid to keep the UK in the EU, and will only take effect if the country votes to remain in the bloc.
The British government welcomed the ruling, saying it "supports our view that we are entitled to ensure only EU migrants who have a right to be in the UK can claim our benefits."
Analyst Marley Morris from the London-based IPPR think tanks said the decision was "another sign - on top of other recent ECJ judgments - that it is becoming more sympathetic to the UK's interpretation of free movement rules."
Earier in the year, the ECJ also ruled that Germany can refuse to immediately pay welfare to EU migrants. The German government is planning leglislation that could make migrants wait five years to claim the benefits from its Hartz IV system for the long-term unemployed.
mm/msh (AFP, dpa)