15,000 benefits claimants in Northern Ireland born outside UK
Thousands of immigrants in Northern Ireland are drawing state handouts, it has been revealed.
Some 15,000 non-UK citizens are in receipt of benefits, including 2,000 from outside the EU.
The figures were released by the Department for Social Development following an Assembly question from Ukip MLA David McNarry.
It will reopen the debate about Northern Ireland's benefits system, which Mr McNarry branded "a soft touch". He voiced concerns that some of the claimants were "economic tourists".
"Not only is it too easy to claim benefits in Northern Ireland, the system is far too generous," he said.
But Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey accused Mr McNarry of demonising vulnerable people.
His department said just one in 10 migrants resident in Northern Ireland claimed benefits.
Responding to a question from Mr McNarry, the Minister said 14,720 non-UK nationals were in receipt of benefits as of July this year.
Around one in three - 4,170 - were Republic of Ireland citizens living in Northern Ireland.
The remaining 10,550 are from the EU and beyond. Some 2,000 claimants are non-EU nationals. A third of the non-EU nationals, some 710, receive more than £150 a week.
Mr McNarry said he was determined to examine the matter further. "I would be concerned that there is a flow of people using the gateway of a non-existent border to creep into Northern Ireland and stay for the benefits," he added.
"The word goes around that the UK is an easy touch, and getting into Northern Ireland is the easiest of the lot.
"Yet here we are, handing out millions of pounds to growing numbers of people who really shouldn't be here."
Mr McNarry said it was difficult to justify the number of benefit recipients: "Of course there may be genuine asylum seekers, but hang on a moment, does asylum run to people jumping on the benefits gravy train?
"The word has got around - come to Northern Ireland, we'll feed and water you, and even better, we'll give you money for doing nothing.
"The whole thing needs a thorough investigation."
The Department for Social Development said that, as of July 2015, there were 145,050 non-UK nationals living in Northern Ireland and registered with a National Insurance number. It means just 10.1% of all migrants were in receipt of a benefit from the Social Security Agency or Housing Executive.
A spokesperson said: "These migrants are only paid benefits on the grounds that they meet the qualifying criteria set out in immigration legislation by the Westminster Government."
Responding to Mr McNarry's comments, Mr Storey said it was easy to demonise vulnerable people who have no real voice.
However, he said the number of non-UK citizens claiming benefits is not high, with almost 90% not claiming any benefit and earning enough not to require support from the social security system.
"The social security system only pays benefits to those people who need financial support because of their personal circumstances and are entitled to receive them under the legislation," he added.