The government has stopped accepting applications for welfare benefits from Europeans who come to Germany looking for work, overriding a treaty dating back to before the formation of the European Union.
The Labor Ministry confirmed reports on Friday that it had stopped allowing foreign EU nationals to receive unemployment benefits if they come to Germany looking for a job, amid fears of a drain on the system from high unemployment countries in southern Europe.
The daily "Frankfurter Rundschau" newspaper reported on Friday that Germany's conservative government released a new policy directive on February 23 eliminating the eligibility of non-German citizens to receive long-term unemployment payments soon after moving to the country.
Before the directive, citizens from some EU countries could claim unemployment in Germany while searching for work under a treaty dating back to 1953, long before the formation of the EU. Countries with high unemployment such as Spain, Portugal and Greece were among the treaty's signatories, but current EU members including Austria and Poland were not.
Foreigners already receiving unemployment benefits would not be affected, the government said.
Immigrants must 'carry their own weight'
Labor Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff justified the government's decision, saying it was unfair for citizens of some EU states to enjoy the benefits and others not. He also said Berlin could not afford to support every immigrant during their job search in Germany.
"We need qualified immigrants for our work force, people who can carry their own weight," Flosdorff told the DPA news agency. "A welcoming culture does not mean an invitation for immigration into the social welfare system."
Opposition politicians criticized the directive, arguing the government was exaggerating the problem.
"The number of those immigrants who applied for unemployment benefits right after arriving in Germany is virtually zero," deputy parliamentary chairwoman of the Social Democrats Elke Ferner told the Frankfurter Rundschau. In regard to work-capable immigrants, the government was reverting to social policy from before 1953, she said.
acb, ncy/sjt (dpa, epd)