Tougher rules for migrants on citizenship
By Jimmy Burns
Published: February 20 2008 15:01 | Last updated: February 20 2008 15:01
Foreign nationals seeking British citzenship will have to prove they can speak English, have paid taxes and have broken no laws as part of the latest toughening of immigration controls unveiled on Wednesday.
Migrants will also have to demonstrate a degree of integration into the local community by engaging in activities such as charity fund-raising events, local playgroups, school governorships and helping run a local sports team.
Those convicted of a criminal offence, however minor, during their stay in the UK as temporary migrants will have their application for citizenship refused and will be subject to removal from the country.
Jacqui Smith, home secretary, described the plans as a new deal for migrants in which the rights and benefits of citizenship would be made available to those who could demonstrate a commitment to our shared values and a willingness to contribute to the community.
They were published on Wednesday in a consultative paper prior to the publication of a draft bill, with full legislation expected before the end of the year.
Ministers justified the plans as part of a wider government strategy aimed at better controlling immigration, which opinion polls suggest is an issue of concern to a majority of voters.
Other measures being brought in by Gordon Browns government this year include a skills-based system for work visas, a new border policing agency, and the roll-out of compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals.
However, opposition MPs criticised the latest plans as a gimmick that potentially threatened new layers of bureaucracy and raised the prospect of legal challenges, while failing to address the underlining financial and social costs of immigration.
An additional levy that the government plans to impose on new arrivals is expected to raise about 15m ($29m) per annum. The government proposes to use this to help finance public services under pressure from the demands placed on them by migrants.
According to David Davis, shadow home secretary, the amount is equivalent to barely one tenth of the cost to the National Health Service of immigration, and barely more than one twentieth of the costs to local government.
He accused the government of going for a complicated and bureaucratic solution when a simple and cheaper one is available. The Conservative party wants to set limits on the number of immigrants that are allowed into the country.
The government also faced criticism from Labour backbenchers who predicted the measures would be seen as discriminatory towards migrants outside the European Economic Area countries, and fuel community tensions rather than promote more harmonious integration.
The government has already come under fire from the CBI employers group, which warned the increase in fees businesses pay for workers visas under the points-based migration system risked deterring employers from hiring skilled workers capable of contributing to the economy.
Editorial comment: Tandoori furore – Feb-15
Migrant rules feel the heat – Feb-14
Union targets M&S over migrant workers – Jan-31
CBI says new immigration fees may hit economy – Jan-31
Victory for migrant carers – Dec-19
UK visitors face stricter visa rules – Dec-16