Nearly 50,000 children who live abroad are receiving benefits claimed by immigrant families living in Britain, figures have revealed.
Just under 30,000 families are claiming child benefits and tax credit for offspring who live outside the UK but within the European Union, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Poland is home to the highest number of children in the region who are receiving benefits claimed in the UK, with more than half the total, 25,659, receiving welfare.
The figures were disclosed by Treasury minister Sajid Javid in a written answer to Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Mr Vaz said: "I am very surprised at this figure. Most people would consider it wrong for people to receive child benefit when the children are living abroad permanently."
On December 31 there were 24,082 ongoing child benefit awards in respect of 40,171 children living in the European Economic Area, Mr Javid revealed. There were also 4,011 ongoing child tax credit awards claimed in respect of 6,838 children. Parents can claim child benefits of £20.30 a week for their eldest child and £13.40 a week for each of their other children, while child tax credit is worth at least £545 a year.
The data will add to concerns about the impact of an expected wave of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria when temporary controls lapse at the end of the year.
The Government has refused to give an estimate of the numbers of people who might move to Britain after gaining the right to live and work in the UK from the end of December. But campaigners Migration Watch UK have predicted that up to 250,000 Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants could come to Britain within five years.
Mr Javid said: "The main purpose of child benefit and the child tax credit is to support families in the UK. Consequently, the rules for these benefits generally do not provide for them to be paid in respect of children who live abroad."
However, Mr Javid said child benefit and child tax credit are family benefits which are protected by European Commission regulations that cover the social security rights of nationals of all EEA member states.
An HMRC spokeswoman said: "EU rules allow EEA nationals to claim child benefit if they meet the relevant conditions and pay compulsory national insurance contributions. These same rules benefit UK nationals working and paying compulsory social security contributions in other EU/EEA member states."