15,000 migrants claiming benefits here at cost of £80m a year
Benefit claims by migrants in Northern Ireland have spiralled in the last five years, official figures suggest.
The number of non-UK nationals receiving handouts now tops 15,000.
The weekly benefits bill is at its highest ever level, costing up to £80m in the last year.
The details were disclosed by the Department for Social Development.
Last November some 15,380 non-UK benefits recipients were recorded - up 31% from 11,730 recipients at the same point in 2011.
The weekly bill also continues to spiral. At November 2015, it stood at £1,564,000 - up 57% compared to November 2011.
If the most recent cost is extrapolated over the course of the year, it would total more than £81.3m.
However, since the figures change on a regular basis, this is only a rough estimate.
Indeed, the true cost may be even higher because housing benefit is not administered by DSD and is not included.
The figures emerged in the same week that Prime Minister David Cameron published his draft deal aimed at keeping Britain in the EU.
The proposals include a watered-down "emergency brake" on migrant benefits.
Ukip's Northern Ireland leader David McNarry said it was clear more and more migrants were entering the region.
"It is a total disgrace, and it shows how deceitful the Stormont Executive is with its attempts to hide the obvious increase in migrant numbers," he said. "They really are frightened of what these numbers mean.
"This cannot continue. It will upset many people who cannot access benefits, and indeed whose benefits have been cut or removed. This increase is not down to the Syrian refugees, who I have welcomed. But it raises the question as to how these migrants are entering Northern Ireland."
The Department for Social Development said non-UK citizens accounted for just 2.6% of the 591,230 benefit recipients in Northern Ireland in November.
Curbing migrants' benefits is one of the issues at the heart of the upcoming referendum on EU membership.
The draft deal would limit migrants' access to benefits for four years immediately after the referendum.
Many anti-EU campaigners feel the deal does not go far enough.
Jordan Ryan from the Leave EU campaign group told the Belfast Telegraph: "If you look at the details of Mr Cameron's deal, benefits for migrants can only be stopped if Brussels agrees they can be stopped.
"It is preposterous and shameful for a British Prime Minister to have to beg Brussels for permission to spend less taxpayers' money."