04 December 2008

Queen's Speech: migrants must earn the right to UK citizenship

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In the Queen's Speech delivered to the House of Lords yesterday, the Government has announced changes to the pathway to citizenship for British immigrants.

According to the BBC, under the new bill, immigrants would have to prove their right to citizenship through their English language ability and their commitment to social integration and non-criminal behaviour.

The Home Office said the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill would ensure a "firm but fair" system would be implemented, including greater flexibility and faster processing of immigration cases, and granting border guards the right to conduct customs checks.

The bill would also create a new path to UK citizenship, while ensuring that those who do not "earn" their right to naturalisation be slowed down in the process.  It would essentially end the automatic right to stay in Britain after five years residence and replace with a new system of "earned citizenship".

All migrants to the UK would have to demonstrate good English language ability and knowledge of the English way of life before becoming citizens.  Those who prove their commitment to community integration and participation, avoid accruing minor criminal offences, pay taxes and work legally would only have six years until they have "earned the right" to British citizenship.

According to the Guardian, those UK migrants who do not involve themselves in volunteer work would have their pathway to citizenship extended to eight years, and those who are unemployed would be asked to leave Britain. 

The bill will also deny full access to benefits, including social housing, to those who have yet to become full British citizens.

Local services would also receive more funding under the bill to deal with the increasing pressures of UK immigration.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), net migration in the UK rose by one quarter last year.  While the numbers of British emigrants reduced over 2007, from 400,000 to 340,000, the estimated number of people arriving to live in the UK for 12 months or more was 577,000 – a difference of only 14,000 less than 2006. 

According to the BBC News, Minister for Immigration Phil Woolas predicted the net migration figure would continue to drop next year, in line with his government's target of 200,000. 

"I think the serious trend is showing that there are less British people leaving Britain to go and perhaps live in Spain and elsewhere and the numbers coming into the country have also gone down," he told the BBC.

The Press Association said Mr Woolas believes the new Australian-style points-based UK immigration system would help with flexibility within the job market. 

Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said if the government wants the British community to maximise benefits from immigration it needs to be more tightly controlled. 


The UK Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in UK visa and immigration services.

Article by Jessica Bird, UK Visa Bureau.


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