Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts as he listens during Question Time in the House of Representatives in Parliament House, Canberra, Australia, November 28, 2016. Reuters/Lukas Coch

A new analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office reveals that at least 870,000 non-citizens who live in Australia get $15 billion per year in welfare. The amount raises concerns about the generosity of the country’s social security system towards foreigners, most of them from Britain, New Zealand, Africa and the Middle East.

Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm requested the analysis which estimated that 710,000 non-citizens from countries with which the Down Under has no social security arrangement claimed an average $17,500 each annually in welfare. The said figure totals 83 percent of the $15 billion.

Leyonhjelm said around 2.5 million non-citizens currently live in Australia and are eligible for the welfare. But he argued that welfare payments should be reserved for Australian citizens.

“While I believe refugees should continue to be eligible for welfare to help them find their feet, the vast majority of non-citizens are not refugees and should not require handouts,” The Australian quotes him. He added that limiting welfare to citizens would discourage those with poor job prospects from heading to the country.

Australian National University professor John Wanna said Australia was one of the most generous countries in the OECD for payments to foreigners. He noted that it’s a different case in Europe, where access to social insurance was usually predicated on prior contributions.

Wanna said the country belongs to the minority, allowing someone who does not work to receive benefits. British citizens made up the largest share, followed by Africa and the Middle East and China. The largest areas of government spending include welfare and social security which are expected to rise from $158.6 billion this financial year to $191 billion by 2020.

Eligibility for family tax benefits, pensions and allowances is not based on citizenship, but on residency. Eligibility for the Age Pension, for instance, entails a minimum of 10 years’ residency.

Regardless, the Malcolm Turnbull government opted to tighten eligibility for skilled temporary visas and citizenship. Peter Dutton, the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection said the reforms will ensure would-be-Australians are competent in English, committed to embracing Australian values and permanent residents for at least four years.

Turnbull believes that the planned changes to citizenship requirements will be “empowering” for migrants. “Is it unreasonable to say that people should have a competent understanding and ability to read and write and speak English to become an Australian citizen?” he told SBS News.

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