UK Bars Unskilled Migrant Workers From Outside EU

U.K. Bars Unskilled Migrant Workers From Outside EU (Update2)

By Kitty Donaldson

Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) — Unskilled migrants from countries outside the European Union will no longer be eligible to work in the U.K., barring thousands of potential newcomers from countries such as India and Pakistan, the government said today.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she is concerned about the impact of record levels of immigration on British communities. Her department set out rules that will allow people to enter the U.K. based on youth and academic ability and require more to speak English before they come.

“Migration brings great social and economic benefits to this country,'' Smith in a speech to the London School of Economics today. “But people expect it to be managed robustly and in support of Britain's national interests.''

The plan is part of a wider effort by Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government to fend off criticism from the opposition Conservative Party that a surging population is straining hospitals, schools and police.

A record 591,000 immigrants arrived in the U.K. last year, with more than two-thirds coming from outside the European Union, according to a report from the Office for National Statistics published Nov. 15.

Impact on Business

Immigration minister Liam Byrne rejected suggestions that the limits would hurt business, saying the U.K. can get all the low-skilled labor it needs from within the European Union, even as London draws in construction workers to prepare for the Olympic Games in 2012.

“We are not running migration policy in the exclusive interest of Britain's business community but in Britain's national interest,'' Byrne said. “This is the biggest change to the immigration system in its history. We doubt that reform will be pain-free.''

The Home Office published details of its new points-based immigration system, which begins early next year and is aimed at encouraging highly-skilled workers to enter the U.K.

It awards points to people applying for visas, with marks going to those with qualifications such as doctorates, competence in English and previous earnings. Special concessions will be made for entrepreneurs and people investing more than 1 million pounds ($2 million) in the country.

Citizenship Rules

The government also wants to toughen the rules on who can earn citizenship. Although the U.K. can already deport criminals convicted of a serious offense, the Home Office wants to strengthen its ability to refuse citizenship to people with less severe criminal records. Those sentenced to 30 months or more in prison will “almost never'' be granted citizenship, Byrne said.

Opposition lawmakers attacked the government's plans. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat law and order spokesman said the “public is entitled to be skeptical.''

“Jacqui Smith should concentrate on getting the basics right first: an integrated border force with exit controls so we know who is coming in and out of the country; proper planning and money for local authorities dealing with sharp population changes and greater promotion of integration,'' Clegg said.

Damian Green, who speaks for the Conservatives on immigration, said the government is “failing to take the key step'' of limiting the number of people allowed to work in the U.K. “Without such a limit the new system will be ineffective in allowing pubic services to plan for new arrivals,'' Green said.

Limits on Marriage

Foreigners who marry Britons and want to live in the U.K. also face stricter controls, affecting about 50,000 people a year. Byrne said he is looking at making it a requirement for spouses to learn English before they arrive in the country.

“If we are serious about English, shouldn't we give these individuals a flying start in the U.K. by asking them to speak English from the day they arrive?'' Byrne said.

The proposals may have a marked impact on the number of spouses entering the U.K. from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Those nations account for 17,000 spouses or fianc entering the U.K. in 2006, out of a total of 47,100, Home Office figures show.

The government is consulting interested lobby groups about how to crack down on forced marriages. It's proposing to set the minimum age at which someone could be brought in to Britain as a spouse at 21 instead of the current 18.

Officials also will consider whether people who are admitted to the U.K. on the basis of marriage should be able to stay in the country if their relationship breaks down.

“We ignore concerns about the wider impact of migration at our peril,'' Smith said. “It is to enshrine in our approach to migration a greater sense of the shared protections and shared values that should be a necessary condition of citizenship.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at .

Last Updated: December 5, 2007 12:08 EST