Foreign nationals applying for a visa to live or work in the UK will generally have to satisfy the immigration authorities that they have the financial means to support themselves and any dependents. Some non-EU nationals may be granted leave to remain in the UK which states that they are not entitled to any help from public funds. However, even if a foreign national resident in the UK is not entitled to receive state benefits they may still be entitled to receive certain contribution-based benefits. These could include unemployment benefits, maternity pay and pensions.
The entitlement of immigrants to claim UK state benefits is a hugely complicated issue. Claimants may have to satisfy an habitual or usual residency test before qualifying for benefits. This test may also be applied to some European nationals and even to British citizens returning to the UK – especially if they are not working when they make their application for assistance. This test is used to prove that the claimant is both entitled to live in the UK and that they are ordinarily resident in the UK. However, there has recently been a suggestion that UK rules restricting the eligibility of EU citizens to claim state benefits could contravene European law.
UK asylum seekers may be entitled to receive financial assistance and housing if they would be left destitute without such help. Those who do not claim asylum immediately upon their arrival in the UK may find that they lose their entitlement to assistance. Asylum support may be paid to asylum seekers who qualify for it – this constitutes a regular payment so that food and other necessities can be bought. Accommodation may also be provided to those who need it while their application is being processed.
The National Health Service
Whether or not they are entitled to receive state benefits, immigrants will usually be entitled to receive free healthcare through the NHS. There is a fairly common misconception that the NHS is intended to provide free healthcare for British people or British taxpayers. However, this is not correct. The purpose of the NHS is to provide free healthcare to British residents. Therefore, foreign nationals who have permission to be in the UK will generally be entitled to free treatment. Asylum seekers are also entitled to free treatment. Conversely, a long-term British citizen, and tax payer, who has subsequently moved abroad is unlikely to be entitled to free treatment on the NHS.
There are some forms of care, including treatment at a hospital’s emergency department and treatment for some infectious diseases, which is free to all.
The belief that immigrants come to the UK and immediately receive council housing has become increasingly widespread in recent years. It is a belief that far-right political parties have attempted to exploit. However, a survey conducted in 2009 showed that only 1.8% of those living in UK social housing were recent immigrants. (For these purposes “recent” meant those immigrants who had come to the UK within the preceding five years.) A large proportion of these will have come to the UK as refugees. A further 10% of those living in social housing were immigrants who had been in the UK for more than five years.
Whether or not an immigrant will have any entitlement to social housing or housing benefit will depend on a number of factors and, in particular, whether they are subject to any form of immigration control. The entitlement of some asylum seekers to be provided with accommodation while their application is being processed does not, technically, come under the heading of social housing. This entitlement has been governed by separate legislation since 2000 and is determined purely by an individual’s status as an asylum seeker.
Everyone in the UK has a legal duty to ensure that their dependent children aged between 5 and 16 receive a full education. There is no requirement for children to be sent to a conventional school to receive this education but, inevitably, the vast majority will be. All children who fall within the compulsory education age are entitled to attend a free, local authority school. This entitlement is not in any way affected by their parents’ immigration status.
The Children of Immigrants
Under European law the children of EU immigrants who are in full-time education may acquire their own, independent, right to live in the UK. With this may come an entitlement to receive certain benefits, including housing, whilst they remain in education. By extension, the “primary carer” of a child who has these rights may also acquire similar rights and entitlements. These will be completely independent of any entitlements that the primary carer would have in their own right.