Global Policy Forum

Brown Plans New Rules for UK Citizenship


By Kitty Donaldson

August 3, 2009


Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government said it's considering requiring applicants for British citizenship to pass a new test and win points before earning the right to carry a UK passport.

The Home Office said it wants to extend its Australian- style points-based immigration rules to citizenship, making those who apply earn credit for salary, age and education. It also wants to impose a second test assessing progress in learning English and integrating into the community.

The measures are part of the biggest clampdown on immigration since World War II after record numbers of migrants entered the UK from 2004. The rules would implement that legislation approved by Parliament last month that the government plans to bring into force in two years.

"Being British is a privilege," Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said in an e-mailed statement in London today. "These proposals break the link between coming to work here temporarily and being given the right to citizenship."

Currently, obtaining British nationality has been a formality for migrants usually granted after five years working and living in the country or after three years of marriage to a resident. Under the new rules it may take up to 10 years to earn the right to stay.

'Pure Spin'

Today's government proposal is "pure spin," Damian Green, the opposition Conservatives' immigration spokesman, said in an e-mail. "There never has been an automatic right to British citizenship. It is simply that this government that has let an unprecedented number of people obtain citizenship, issuing someone with a British passport every five minutes."

The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act that received Queen Elizabeth II's approval on July 21 gave the government the authority to extend the basic application period for citizenship grants to eight years for those on work visas and five years for people with family connections. Two years can be shaved off the process by taking part in approved voluntary or charity work.

Woolas said last month that the new rules will take effect no earlier than July 2011. People who have permanent residency at that time, known as indefinite leave to remain, can apply under the old rules for the following two years.

Woolas' proposals today sketch out the new system aimed at giving ministers the flexibility to raise or lower the bar for citizenship grants depending on the needs of the country and the economy.

Closing the Door

Britain has reversed its open door policy as public concern grew over the scale of immigration since 2004. Then, Poland and seven other eastern European nations joined the European Union, winning the right to work without restriction in the UK.

While European freedom of movement laws mean Britain has little power to control arrivals from inside the EU, most immigration has come from beyond Europe in recent years. The government last year began an Australian-style points-based system for people entering Britain from outside the EU.

Those rules, now applying to visa applications, will be extended to citizenship. In a consultation document, Woolas is asking for views on whether points should be added for earning potential, education, skills in a shortage occupation and competency in English. Applicants would have points subtracted for criminal or anti-social behavior or failing to integrate into British life.

The application procedure will be slowed down if they "behave badly," for instance by demonstrating against British troops because of the country's foreign policy, Woolas said.

Second Test

The Home Office, which currently requires applicants for permanent residence and citizenship to pass the "Life in the UK Test" gauging a basic understanding of English and the culture, is considering another test at a later stage that would assess progress on integrating and mastering the language.

The new test will take place after a migrant has completed the citizenship points-test, and undergone a period of "earned citizenship" normally lasting for between one and three years, depending on whether they are prepared to carry out voluntary work.

The voluntary work could speed up the citizenship process by as much as two years. Highly skilled applicants for passports could earn citizenship within six years of arriving in the country; they pass all the government's tests and volunteer.



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