Migrants are to be banned from obtaining legal aid for civil claims until they have lived in Britain for at least a year.
The crackdown on immigrants' rights is among the changes to be announced by ministers this week to cut the £1.7 billion ($2.5 billion) legal aid bill by about £300 million.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling said the measures would be ''difficult but sensible''.
''It's not about denying people access to justice … it's about achieving the right balance for what you can afford.''
Mr Grayling is to take an axe to criminal legal aid in an effort to limit large taxpayer-funded payments to lawyers. Some leading QCs can receive as much as £500,000 a year from the government for defending suspects.
He said no one whose earnings came from the public sector ''should reasonably expect'' to earn more than the Prime Minister, who is paid £142,000 a year.
Under the new measures, prisoners would be banned from using legal aid for cases that do not relate to the length of their sentences.
''I am proposing to take legal aid away from prisoners who don't like the prison they are in, or don't like the cell they are in, or don't like a part of the regime,'' Mr Grayling said.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to make Britain the ''toughest'' country on benefits for migrants.
Ministers will consider a proposal to ensure that future arrivals will not be able to receive legal aid in cases that involve benefits, housing or relationship breakdowns.
A senior government source said: ''At a time when we have had to make difficult decisions about legal aid to ensure that taxpayers can have confidence in how we spend their money, we believe that in future, civil legal aid should be limited to those who have a strong connection to this country.''
There are currently no nationality or residence restrictions on civil legal aid. Ministers plan to make it a requirement for solicitors to see documentary evidence of at least 12-month residency before taking on cases.
There will be some exceptions, including asylum seekers whose claims have not been determined.
Tens of thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian workers are expected to arrive in Britain after European Union restrictions are lifted next year. A report by think tank MigrationWatch predicts 250,000 could arrive by 2019.
Mr Grayling said: ''There are a number of areas where somebody who comes to this country even on a tourist visa can access civil legal aid. We are going to change that. There have been examples of people who have come to the country for extraordinarily short periods of time who have had a relationship breakdown and then they end up in our courts, at our expense, to determine custody of the children.''