A ban on EU migrants claiming out-of-work benefits from the moment they arrive in the UK is to be rushed through Parliament to be in place in time for the January 1 lifting of access restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.
Under regulations being tabled in Parliament, migrants from all EU states will have to wait for three months before applying for jobseeker's allowance (JSA) and other out-of-work benefits.
The move was among a set of measures to restrict so-called benefit tourism announced last month by Prime Minister David Cameron, amid concerns about a predicted influx of Romanians and Bulgarians when they gain full rights to live and work in the UK at the start of the year.
When the three-month delay was announced, Downing Street said it was unlikely to be in place in time for the arrival of the first migrants taking advantage of their new access rights on New Year's Day.
But the restriction is now being brought forward to come into effect on the first day of 2014.
From that point, with a few exceptions, all migrants from other EU states will have to wait three months before claiming JSA of up to £71 a week. After six months on JSA, only those who can provide compelling evidence that they have a genuine chance of finding work will be allowed to continue claiming the benefit.
Mr Cameron said: "The hard-working British public are rightly concerned that migrants do not come here to exploit our public services and our benefits system.
"As part of our long-term plan for the economy, we are taking direct action to fix the welfare and immigration systems so we end the something-for-nothing culture and deliver for people who play by the rules.
"Accelerating the start of these new restrictions will make the UK a less attractive place for EU migrants who want to come here and try to live off the state. I want to send the clear message that whilst Britain is very much open for business, we will not welcome people who don't want to contribute."
Labour accused Mr Cameron of leaving the tabling of the necessary regulations until the last minute before Parliament rises for its Christmas break on Thursday.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Labour called for these benefit restrictions nine months ago. Yet David Cameron has left it until the very last minute to squeeze this change in.
"Why is the Government leaving everything until the last minute and operating in such a chaotic way? Three weeks ago Theresa May told Parliament she couldn't restrict benefits in time, now the Prime Minister says they can. They wouldn't be on the run from angry Conservative backbenchers if they'd listened to us nine months ago.
"Three days ago Theresa May hinted she was planning a cap on all EU countries. Then she was forced to admit it was only for new countries. A month ago they had a flagship immigration bill. Now it's disappeared.
"They still haven't taken action on the rest of Labour's proposals to stop immigration being exploited to undercut wages and jobs for local workers.
"The Government should urgently beef up enforcement against agencies which only recruit from abroad, dodgy gangmasters and targeting sectors that are reliant on migrant labour to ensure they are working to train employees.
She added: "We need urgent changes to minimum-wage enforcement to stop exploitation of European workers, which is bad for them, bad for local workers who are undercut and bad for responsible employers too."
Other measures in Mr Cameron's package include limiting welfare to six months for EU job seekers with no job prospects; s topping housing benefit claims for EU job seekers; t oughening the "habitual residence" test for claimants; i mposing a 12-month re-entry ban for people who have been removed for begging or sleeping rough; and i ncreasing fines for businesses found not to be paying the national minimum wage.
A poll for The Sun found that 42% of those taking part viewed limiting immigration from EU countries as a priority of the "utmost importance" for the Prime Minister, while a further 20% said it should be a "major aim" and 10% regarded it as "good but not essential". Just 14% were opposed to changing the current situation.
Some 43% said they would vote now for Britain to leave the EU, against 37% who would support staying in. But, in a significant vote of confidence in Mr Cameron's policy of holding a referendum in 2017 after a renegotiation of UK membership, more than half (52%) said they would vote to stay in the EU if the PM secured "major" changes, against 23% who would still want to quit.
The poll found that 29% saw it as "vital" that Britain should be able to decide what benefits it offers EU migrants, while 25% said it should be a "major aim" and 13% said it would be "good" - a total of 67% in favour.