May 1, 2013 2:29 pm

Cameron frustrated over pace of UK immigration policy change

David Cameron has acknowledged that the public is frustrated with the slow pace of change on immigration policy, but promised ministers would bring forward measures in the next few weeks to limit immigrants’ access to benefits and the health service.

The prime minister admitted that many Britons were still waiting for action on immigrants’ access to public services, but reeled off a list of changes he had made, from cutting net migration by a third to closing bogus colleges.

“I understand people’s frustrations who say ‘Well we want more done to sort out this problem’ – so do I,” Mr Cameron told ITV’s Daybreak programme. “I can get frustrated with the speed of government sometimes, in getting things changed, in getting things done, but on immigration we’re acting very rapidly.”

He said that in “coming weeks”, the government would introduce rules “to make sure that when people come here they are not coming for the health service or the benefit system or anything else”.

The expected changes, such as introducing the requirement that migrants from within the EU have health insurance, are part of efforts to make the UK less attractive to those from poorer member states.

The debate over immigrants’ access to housing, benefits and healthcare has become increasingly fraught before a feared influx from Romania and Bulgaria, when transitional controls on these countries are dropped at the end of this year.

Mark Harper, immigration minister, is chairing a cross-departmental committee looking at how to reduce Britain’s “pull factors” for EU migrants. “We want to make sure that when people look at the access to our benefits and our public services that no one thinks we are a soft touch in this country,” he said in February.

Under consideration is a “residence test” for social housing, so that those with local connections are considered by councils before people from abroad.

Ministers are also looking at tightening the test that determines how long immigrants must wait after coming to the UK before they can claim benefits.

The Home Office has made significant reforms to visa rules for migrants from outside Europe, as part of their efforts to meet the pre-election target of reducing annual net migration to fewer than 100,000 by 2015. The figure presently stands at 163,000.

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