A crackdown on immigrants gaining British citizenship will be unveiled today by the UK’s Home Office (interior ministry) in what will be seen as the latest step in controversial government moves to tackle racial tensions during a recession.
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas is to outline details of how immigrants would be expected to “earn” a British passport by accumulating points for voluntary work, speaking English, paying taxes or having useful skills. Being willing to live in parts of the country where skills shortages are high is also likely to gain points.
Crucially, the move to a points-based system — rather than the current near-automatic right to citizenship for anyone who has lived in the UK for five years without a criminal record — would allow the government to raise or lower the hurdles as they choose, depending on economic and political circumstances.
“We are going to be tougher about people becoming citizens. There won’t be an automatic right any longer, and the link between work and citizenship is effectively broken,” a senior Home Office source said.
The move is to be followed in the autumn by a review of the points-based system for temporary immigrants, expected to lead to restrictions on work permits for skilled workers coming from outside the EU to fill job shortages.
The government’s migration advisory committee has been asked to review the system in light of the economic slump and is also considering whether some occupations previously considered to have shortages, such as chefs, should be taken off the list.
Keith Best of the Immigration Advisory Service said it was now clear that the government was toughening its stance before a spring election campaign.
“I have no doubt the message has gone out loud and clear to the Home Office, to deliver lower immigration figures before the next election,” Best said. “I think [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown knew what he was doing when he came out with that line about British jobs for British workers. I think it’s regrettable, but that is less important to a government that is desperately trying to find ways of staying in office.”
Brown’s pledge — and an announcement last month that more priority could be given to long-standing residents when allocating public housing — were attacked by some as pandering to the far right.
A Home Office spokesman declined to comment on the plans, but said: “The points based system has already proved to be a powerful tool for controlling migration for the benefit of both British people and the economy.”
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