Immigrants who want to settle in the UK and become a British Citizen will need to pass more tests and earn the right to stay under a probationary system.
The UK Government has published a new bill today to force UK migrants to “earn the right to stay”, and to strengthen the border and ensure a “firm but fair” immigration system.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) announcement claims that the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill is a “radical new approach to British citizenship that will require all migrants to speak English and obey the law if they want to gain citizenship and stay permanently in Britain – while speeding up the path to citizenship for those who contribute to the community by being active citizens”.
But ILPA (Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association) says the new system could leave many thousands of migrants and their families living in Britain as permanent residents on Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), disadvantaged and “increasingly marginalised”. The move could force those with ILR to apply for a British passport in order to maintain full access to the benefits of living in the UK.
The UKBA announcement continues:
“Under the new system, full access to benefits and social housing will be reserved for citizens and permanent residents – which means if you are not a citizen full access to benefits will not be allowed.”
Foreign nationals who commit serious offences already face automatic consideration for deportation, but the ‘earned citizenship’ proposals go further. Anyone sent to prison will face removal, and even those committing minor offences will normally need to wait until their conviction is spent before they can become citizens.
Gaining citizenship will take at least six years, but in some cases the process could take up to ten years.
60% of people with ILR apply for citizenship – Home Office
These measures will work alongside the points-based system to ensure that “only those people the country needs can come – and stay – here”. This system will allow the Government to “manage immigration which in turn will help contribute to future population projections and control”.
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said:
“We are clear that newcomers should speak English, work hard, and earn the right to stay here – and only get British citizenship once they have proved their commitment to the country.
“Migration only works if it brings benefits, and these measures will ensure that only those migrants that make a positive impact on their local community will be able to stay in the UK.”
The ippr, a leading think tank, says the Government must use this bill to recognise that migrants are crucial to our economy both now and beyond the recession. It warns that if the bill goes forward in its current form the UK will lose out to other countries competing to attract migrants.
Tim Finch, Head of ippr’s Migration Team, said:
“Migrants become easy targets at times of economic difficulty but introducing yet more tough measures to exclude people could damage our prospects for economic recovery.
“As it stands, the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill could deter migrants who are in high demand and who are essential for our economy.
“Not all migrants will want to settle in the UK, but some will and so it’s important that the over-complicated process of “earned citizenship” is made more clear and fair.”
Ippr says that introducing measures which will make Britain less attractive to those migrants that the economy needs is counter-productive and unnecessary – as evidence suggests that migration ebbs and flows over time. Immigration boomed when the economy was booming and is likely to slow naturally as the economy slows.
The latest proposed changes are part of the Government’s “shake-up” of the immigration system, following the roll out of the points-based system and ID cards for foreign nationals. The bill will now go through the reading stages in the House of Lords and Commons, where the finer details will be scrutinised before it becomes Law.
First reading took place on 14 January. This stage is a formality that signals the start of the Bill’s journey through the Lords.
Second reading – the general debate on all aspects of the Bill – takes place on 26 January. A list of expected speakers, updated regularly, can be found on the Lords Government Whips Office website.
ILPA (Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association) committee members are also scrutinising the bill and will be challenging some of the more controversial proposals on humanitarian grounds.
How will this affect existing migrants?
Cynthia Barker of Immigration Advisers Bison UK offers the following advice:
If you are already a British Citizen or have applied to become one, you have nothing to worry about, but your spouse, partner or children may be affected by the new rules.
Those here on Indefinite Leave to Remain could become ‘second class residents’ with limited access to welfare services and benefits and even more vulnerable to deportation if they step out of line.
Temporary and Probationary citizens will definitely not have access to benefits and housing, with the exceptions applying to Britain’s international obligations.
Anyone on Indefinite Leave, and wishing to remain long term in the UK, should consider applying for British Citizenship now, before the rules change making it far more difficult to obtain a British Passport.
Home Office officials say that just 60% of those given Indefinite Leave go on to apply for British Citizenship. In 2007 164,635 migrants were given British Passports.
Migrants on Work Permits or other forms of leave who have not yet applied for Indefinite Leave to Remain, which is currently required before you can apply for citizenship, should do so immediately (if they are eligible).
Migrants have a ‘window of opportunity’ in which to secure their long term position in the UK and must act now!
Many countries, for instance the Philippines, allow their citizens to hold dual nationality, which means you can hold two passports.
Bison UK are offering a 10% discount to Immigration Matters readers who subscribe to the free immigration newsletter on its fees for ILR and British Citizenship.