Smith Seeks To Restore Trust In Immigration System

Smith seeks to restore trust in immigration system

Low-skilled workers from outside EU will be barred
New English test for those seeking to marry Britons

Patrick Wintour
Thursday December 6, 2007
The Guardian

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, yesterday announced measures designed to restore trust in the UK's migration system, including a new English test for foreigners seeking to marry a Briton and settle in the UK.

She and her immigration minister, Liam Byrne, also said that under the government's new points-based system those with low skills from outside the EU would in effect not be permitted entry for the foreseeable future. About 12,000 unskilled migrants from non-EU countries in Africa, America and Asia came to work in the UK last year.

Individuals with an unspent criminal conviction will also find it more difficult to gain citizenship from next year.

In one of her first major speeches as home secretary, Smith conceded that the government was struggling to make its case heard. Speaking at the London School of Economics, she said: “The arguments we are currently making in support of migration do not necessarily empathise with the real and direct experience that communities across the country are now feeling. Many of them are seeing change on quite a dramatic scale, over quite a short period, and many of them are experiencing this for the first time.”

She said she would work with Britain's European partners to see if EU nationals with a criminal record could be deported more easily.

The measures are in part the result of a summer tour that Byrne took throughout the UK to gauge the public's attitude to migration.

In a speech to the thinktank Demos today, Byrne will argue that Britain “is not a nation of Alf Garnetts”, but that the electorate “want a deal on the table that is not unconditional. The rules should be unambiguous: 'Speak the language, obey the law and make sure you're paying your taxes like the rest of us'. It is a very British, tough-minded fairness. The sooner newcomers start on the type of journey we have in mind, the better.”

The shadow immigration minister, Damian Green, complained that the measures still stopped short of putting an annual cap on the number of people allowed to come and work in Britain.

The measure on spouses would affect more than 50,000 foreigners, mainly Indians, Bengalis and Pakistanis.

English tests were introduced in November 2005 for foreigners taking British citizenship, and were extended to those seeking to settle in the UK in April this year.

In a consultation paper, the government asks whether those seeking to marry a Briton should be required to take a written or oral test. It also asks whether failure to pass an English language test should lead to outright refusal of entry to the UK, or whether a temporary visa should be granted to allow the applicant to take language lessons.

The package of immigration measures also features previously announced moves to crack down on forced marriages, including a suggestion that the minimum age at which someone could sponsor a spouse or be brought to Britain as a spouse should rise from 18 to 21.

Byrne also revealed that ministers want powers to ban anyone with an unspent jail sentence of 30 months or more from being able to take UK nationality.

He and Smith also used yesterday's announcements to highlight government plans to introduce a points-based system for non-EU migrants, due to come into force in 100 days. Responding to fears that the ban on unskilled workers might harm the construction industry, Byrne said: “We are not running immigration policy on the exclusive interests of the UK business community, we are running it in Britain's national interest.”