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Recourse to public funds: EEA and Swiss nationals with children

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 4:15 pm, 5th March 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for proposing new clause 56 on recourse to public funds when granting leave to remain to EEA and Swiss nationals with children. I appreciate that the intention behind this new clause is clearly to protect the wellbeing of children. By way of background, EEA and Swiss nationals may currently access the benefits included in the new clause, broadly speaking only when they are exercising treaty rights through employment or self-employment, or where they have become permanent residents. The new clause would provide that EEA nationals here with a child, for whatever period, could qualify for benefits, thereby potentially creating new entitlements to benefits based solely on the EEA or Swiss nationality of the parent or legal guardian of the children. I am sure that that was not the intention.

As I have said before, the Government have been clear about their intention to protect the entitlements of EEA and Swiss nationals already resident here, as we leave the EU, and to introduce no new restrictions until the future skills-based immigration system is introduced. All leave issued under the EU settlement scheme does not and will not include a no recourse to public funds condition.

I should like to explain in a bit more detail. The new clause would under the future system provide a significant advantage to EEA and Swiss nationals over non-EEA nationals, who generally qualify for access to public funds only when they acquire indefinite leave to remain, subject to exceptions for refugees and other groups. We believe that that general qualifying threshold for access to benefits for migrants is the right one, as it reflects the strength of a migrant’s connection to the United Kingdom and the principle that migrants should come to the UK to contribute rather than to place pressures on taxpayer-funded services.

Non-EEA migrants coming to live in the UK are currently expected to provide for any children they have without recourse to public funds. There is no reasonable justification for adopting a different principle for EEA nationals arriving in the UK when the new system is introduced.

Further, EEA nationals entering the country under the future immigration system will still be eligible to qualify for contribution-based benefits once they have paid sufficient national insurance contributions. As with non-EEA nationals, full access to our benefits system would be available under the immigration rules after settled status was granted—usually after five years, on a route that leads to settlement.

As I have said, I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about the wellbeing of children. However, I reassure her and the other hon. Members who supported the new clause that the safeguards already in place for the vulnerable will be retained. For example, immigration legislation already provides that local authorities may intervene where required, regardless of the immigration status or nationality of the child or parent. However, it is only right that the future immigration system should also continue to play a part in ensuring that public funds are protected for the lawful residents of the UK, and in assuring the public that immigration continues to benefit the country as a whole.