Irish welfare benefits for intra-EU migrants are amongst the highest in the EU in the areas of jobseekers allowance, healthcare, old-age pensions, and child benefit.
Non-active EU migrants also account for a greater share of the country’s total population than many other member states.
The figures revealed in a recent European Commission report on the impact of unemployed migrants on social welfare budgets suggest that “benefit tourism” is not a substantial issue in the European Union, but indicate that Ireland is a conspicuous exception to this finding in a number of areas.
As revealed in the Irish Examiner recently, more than a fifth of unemployment benefit recipients in Ireland are from other EU countries, whereas this figure is just 2.5% in Germany.
As of Mar 2012, there were 62,652 European Union nationals receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance here, although this may account for both contributory and non-contributory recipients due to the manner in which data is held by the Central Statistics Office.
Non-active EU migrants, defined in the report as people not in employment, including jobseekers, account for 3% of the Irish population, in comparison with the average rate of between 0.7% and 1%.
Similarly, special non-contributory cash benefits in Ireland, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, are more than five times higher than in a number of member states.
The report was commissioned in response to the growing concerns over “benefit tourism” among some EU nations, whereby non-nationals migrate to a country to avail of its generous welfare provisions.
The report concludes that: “The share of non-active, intra-EU migrants is very small, they account for a similarly limited share of special non-contributory cash benefit recipients and the budgetary impact of such claims on national welfare budgets is very low.”
The report also states that other considerations like employment prospects remain the key driver for intra-EU migration, which is in line with the findings of research carried out at Trinity College Dublin in 2011 which cited employment prospects, higher wages, the opportunity to learn English and a desire to travel as the key concerns for EU migrants.
The same study also suggested, however, that welfare benefits may be of greater importance in migrants staying in Ireland rather than returning to their home country.
According to the European Commission report, EU migrants are more likely than nationals to be unemployed, with Britain and Czech Republic the only exceptions.
This is reflected in Ireland where 17.7% of migrants from other EU countries are unemployed, as opposed to 14.5% of Irish people and the EU average 12.6% of migrants.
Healthcare expenditure to migrants from other member states is also far above the mid-point values seen across the EU of 0.2% of healthcare budgets, at 2.3% in Ireland.
Ireland is again an exception to the rule in terms of old-age pensions where EU migrants are more likely to access non-contributory state pensions than Irish nationals, whereas in two-thirds of nations providing old-age benefits the opposite is true.
Child benefit is also available here at a higher rate than in many other EU countries, at €130 per month as announced in the budget earlier this month.
The unemployment figures in the report may be somewhat skewed by the report’s definition of non-active migrants as those over 15 years of age.
This means that many would not be part of the country’s labour force, including students and pensioners.
Ireland’s cost of living also remains amongst the highest in Europe and thus may explain the higher rates of welfare benefits available to the population.