For the past seven years, immigrants from eight countries due to become full members of the EU were banned from claiming benefits in the UK until they had worked here for 12 months.
But from April 2011, immigrants from Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic – where income levels are 40 per cent of the European average – will be allowed to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance and other benefits after just three months.
Money for nothing: Immigrants from another eight countries will soon be able to claim Jobseekers' Allowance after three months
Unlike many other European nations which closed their labour markets to the so-called Accession Eight countries, Britain has allowed their nationals to work here.
This was on condition that they abided by the Government’s Worker Registration Scheme, which denied them benefits for a year.
But the scheme runs out next spring because seven years is the maximum transition period under EU law and no extension can be granted.
It means Eastern European immigrants entering Britain will be subject to the same benefits rules as they are in established EU countries like France and Germany.
Although there are no official Government figures, the latest academic surveys suggest there are now 1.2 million Eastern European nationals living in Britain.
Most former Soviet bloc countries pay lower unemployment benefits than Britain. In Latvia, the monthly unemployment allowance is £57.20 compared with the UK’s £200-£256.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, said last night: ‘Now is the time to engage the EU in a renegotiation of the welfare arrangements to ensure that we do not face a wave of benefit shoppers when these countries become full members.