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Germany proposes drastic change to benefits law for migrants

Germany is proposing a change to its unemployment benefits law so that European Union migrants would be unable to access jobless benefits for the first five years after arriving in the country.

The proposal was put forth by German labor minister Andrea Nahles, a left-wing social democrat. The current law allows EU migrants access to most benefits six months after entering the country.

Government statistics show that 440,000 EU migrants claimed benefits in January in Germany, although the figure includes those claiming 'top-up benefits' for doing low-paid work, according to the The Financial Times. Currently, the largest groups claiming benefits are from Poland, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, according to the government numbers.

Germany took in a record 1.1 million refugees in 2015, according to various reports. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel, once praised for her open-door policy toward newcomers, has been criticized by what many Germans now view as an open-door migrant policy. The backlash largely follows a series of attacks on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, allegedly by immigrants.

Merkel's stance also cost her key regions in last month's regional elections. Her Christian Democratic Party suffered sharp losses in two out of three states where elections were held, which also saw a sharp rise in support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party.

European governments have been facing increasing calls to curb the number of migrants entering the EU. In 2015, 1.3 million people sought asylum in Europe, said Eurostat. The majority come from Syria, with Afghanistan and Iraq following closely behind.

The proposed bill would have to be agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet before heading to parliament.

On Thursday, Austria and Italy agreed to keep the Brenner Pass open after Austria, which controversially passed a new law allowing for most asylum claims to be rejected directly at the border, threatened to close the highway between the two countries.


Migrants, including thee men from Benin, who had arrived by train to Germany sit on cots while waiting to register at a center for migrants at a facility of the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) on August 31, 2015 in Rosenheim, Germany.
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Migrants, including thee men from Benin, who had arrived by train to Germany sit on cots while waiting to register at a center for migrants at a facility of the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) on August 31, 2015 in Rosenheim, Germany.

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