As a part of what may be characterised as challenges posed to welfare state systems by globalisation processes, growing numbers of asylum applications have made the access of asylum seekers to welfare state benefits an important issue. Thanks to the new EC competencies introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam as Title IV of the EC Treaty, the situation accorded to asylum seekers after arrival and during the time while their claim is being processed will soon constitute an important issue on the European level. The discussion and the rules to emerge will be influenced on the one hand by standards derived from international law (in particular the 1951 Geneva Convention and the ECHR) as well as the existing national laws and practices.The article shows that limitations imposed on states' discretion in designing reception policies are few. On the other hand, the diversity of states' policies shows that common European standards are a long way down the road. However, the states examined have demonstrated a strong tendency towards more restrictive policies thereby following the obvious aims of deterrence and saving money. Additionally, it is shown that another subtext is underpinning restrictive measures: by limiting access to economic, social and cultural benefits possibilities for integration are kept at a low level. Having in mind the necessity to secure a life in human dignity, it will be argued that the time period of impeding full participation of asylum seekers in the host society must be kept very short.