Migrants from Europe will have to leave Britain if they don't get a job within six months, and must work for four years before receiving some benefits, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Friday, in a carefully balanced speech designed to defuse domestic criticism of his immigration policies while averting a showdown with the European Union.
Immigration has become an increasingly bitter issue in Britain since the 2008 economic crisis sparked recession and government spending cuts.
The right-wing U.K. Independence Party has gained growing support with calls to curb migration and leave the EU, which allows citizens of its 28 countries to live and work across the bloc.
Cameron has promised to wrest more control from the EU, but any attempt to cap the number of immigrants would be unacceptable to other members.
He stopped short of calling for a cap Friday, saying Britain supports freedom of movement, but it is not "an unqualified right."
He said EU migrants who had not found a job within six months "will be required to leave," and new arrivals would not be able to claim tax credits and child benefits until they had been in Britain for four years.
"Immigration benefits Britain, but it needs to be controlled," Cameron said.
He vowed to get the EU to accept reforms before holding a referendum on Britain's membership in 2017.
The speech was relatively conciliatory in tone, and EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Cameron's ideas should be studied "without drama."
Several other EU countries already have taken measures against immigrants who claim benefits without seeking work.
"It is up to national lawmakers to fight against abuses of the system, and the EU law allows for this," Schinas said.
But UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it was the speech of a "scared" politician "realizing he is out of touch."
Associated Press Writer Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.