Labour today called for a crack-down on benefits payments to migrants, insisting it should be harder for newcomers to receive Jobseekers Allowance payments if they become unemployed.
The shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, also said foreign workers should not be allowed to claim child benefit for youngsters living abroad.
And she said that Labour would strengthen checks on student visas to crack down on abuse of the system by people seeking a backdoor route to Britain..
Although the party is toughening its stance on immigration, Ms Cooper denied it was shifting to the Right in an attempt to outbid the Conservatives.
She said that rules on entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance could be rewritten to add a “presence test” for claimants. This would clarify that the allowance to clarify that “will be expected to be in the country for some time or to contribute before they get something back. That could be done swiftly”.
However, Ms Cooper insisted Britain must not “pull up the drawbridge”. She told the Institute for Public Policy Research in London: “Most people who come to Britain from Europe work hard and contribute more in taxes than they use in public services or claim in benefits,” she said.
“But the system needs to be seen to be fair. Giving people the right to work in other countries is not about people travelling and getting support from other countries if they don't plan to contribute.
”So the Government is right to look at this area. But so far they have come up with no specific practical proposals and are engaged in a frenzy of briefing and rhetoric instead.“
She continued Labour’s repositioning on the sensitive issue by saying the party should have been ”ready to talk about problems“ but now knows ”that needs to change“. She acknowledged that the impact of migration must be properly managed so that it is ”fair for all“.
She insisted: “We won't enter an arms race of rhetoric on immigration - and we hope the Prime Minister won't either.” She will argue there must be an effort to distinguish between ”immigration that works and immigration that doesn't“.
Her address came after Mr Miliband admitted in a party political broadcast this week that the previous Labour Government got it “wrong” on immigration.
Ms Cooper promised a future Labour Government would reduce migration by low-skilled workers through more prosecutions and higher fines for companies paying less than the national minimum wage; tackling ”gangmasters“ employing illegal migrants in social care, hospitality and construction and a ban on housing workers in overcrowded accommodation.
She claimed Tory promises to reduce net migration below 100,000 a year by the 2015 election is ”not what it seems“. She argued that a reduction in net migration of 72,000 is made up of a 27,000 increase in emigration alongside a 20,000 drop in the number of Britons returning to the UK while student immigration has dropped by 38,000.
”Few think the answer to Britain's immigration challenges is to persuade more Brits to go away. Net migration measures the difference between certain categories of immigration and emigration and the way they have set the target means they are at risk of focusing on the wrong things,” she said.
The shadow Home Secretary called for curbs on student visitor visas, which have risen by 30,000 since the last election. “Legitimate university students are included in the [Government’s] target even though they bring billions into Britain - and those are being squeezed. Yet student visitor visas aren't included - and growing abuse in that category is being ignored. Stronger checks are needed on shorter-term student visitor visas.“
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