Mainstream interpretations of the free movement of labour in the European Union as responsible for a ‘race to the bottom’ for indigenous workers’ conditions fail to consider the multifaceted nature of migration and the benefits of mobility for migrant workers. Starting from the emblematic case of welfare and migration reforms in the United Kingdom and reviewing recent judgments by the European court this article explores ongoing restrictions of the free movement and social rights of internal migrants. The tightening conditionality of worker status, based on the obligation to prove habitual residence and the holding of employment, emerges as a central device in the differentiation of migrants’ access to social benefits in the host state. Interviews with experts and NGOs and analysis of recent case laws across Member States illustrate how jobseekers and precarious migrants are confined to a liminal space where they either prove to have a ‘genuine prospects of work’ or lose their social benefits, and in extreme cases risk expulsion. The argument is that these regulatory restrictions supported by the courts bring about a re-stratification of UE labour citizenship diminishing migrant bargaining power and deepening precariousness for both migrants and citizens.
Keywords: Migrants, free movement, welfare, mobility, employment rights, UE citizenship