Earned Citizenship

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary 12:31 pm, 20th February 2008

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a statement on immigration and the path to British citizenship. Today I laid copies of the earned citizenship Green Paper in the Library of the House.

Britain is a tolerant and fair-minded country. The British public know that carefully managed migration brings great benefits for the UK—economic, social and cultural. However, I also recognise and understand concerns about the impact of migration on local public services. At a time of change, we have responded to the need to control migration to the benefit of Britain, and to protect our borders.

We have made substantial progress in recent years, and we are seeing the results: record numbers of foreign national prisoners were deported last year; fingerprint checks are now in place for all visas for those travelling to Britain; and asylum applications are now being processed more quickly than ever before. This year, we are delivering further radical changes to the UK's immigration system.

First, we are ensuring that those who come to Britain do so in Britain's interests. The Australian-style points-based system, which goes live at the end of this month, will allow only those whom we need to come to work and study. Secondly, we have strengthened how we police the system and protect our borders. We will soon have systems in place to count people in and out of the country. From 1 April, the UK Border Agency will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas and Customs at British ports of entry. Later this year, we will begin to introduce compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals who wish to stay in the UK, making it clear whether they are allowed to work and how long they can stay.

Building on those measures, today's Green Paper sets out our plans for the third phase of immigration reform—ensuring that the path to British citizenship reinforces our shared values. Today we are setting out a new deal for citizenship, in which the rights and benefits of British citizenship are matched by the responsibilities and contributions that we expect of newcomers to the UK.

Our proposals are based on the UK-wide programme of listening events that we have conducted over the past five months with the British public, and in framing our proposals, we have taken their views into account. They were clear about what we should expect of newcomers who choose to come to the UK and start on the path to citizenship—that they should speak English; that they should work hard and pay tax; that they should obey the law; and that they should get involved in and contribute to community life.

British people want the system to be fair and transparent, and I am clear that progress to citizenship should be earned. The Green Paper proposes that all migrants coming to the UK will be admitted as temporary residents. A limited number of categories—highly skilled and skilled workers, those joining family and those granted our protection—will then be able to apply to become probationary citizens for a time-limited period. Probationary citizenship is a new and crucial stage in our immigration system, and it will determine whether a migrant can progress to full citizenship or permanent residence.

The Green Paper sets out clear expectations of migrants as they move through the stages of that journey. We will expect the vast majority of highly skilled and skilled workers entering under the points-based system to speak English, and we are consulting on whether spouses entering on marriage visas should be able to speak some English before arrival. In order to become a probationary citizen, we will expect everyone to demonstrate English and knowledge of life in the UK.

Refugees who legitimately require our protection will continue to receive their current entitlements. We will continue to expect temporary residents to support themselves without general access to benefits. We now propose to defer full access to benefits and services until migrants have successfully completed the probationary citizenship phase, so that they are expected to contribute economically and support themselves and their dependants until such time as they become British citizens or permanent residents. It is at that point that they will have full access to our benefits and services.

We expect people coming to this country to obey our laws. As well as deporting record numbers of foreign national prisoners, we will refuse applications to stay or progress from anyone given a prison sentence, so that they will be denied access to British citizenship and will lose their right to stay. There should also be consequences for those given non-custodial sentences. We propose, therefore, that minor offences should slow down progress to the full benefits of citizenship. Such offenders should need to demonstrate compliance with our laws over an extended period to earn the right to progress in the journey to citizenship. I believe that criminality should halt, or slow down, progress on the path to British citizenship, but also that we should reward those who play a more active role in the community. We will therefore enable people to move more quickly through the system where they have made a positive contribution to British life by, for example, volunteering with a charity.

I am today proposing a fund to help local service providers to deal with the impacts on our local communities of rapid changes in population. Money for the fund will come from charging migrants an additional amount on immigration application fees.

At a European level, we are making a concerted effort with member states to deal, for example, with criminal activity by European economic area nationals. We deported 500 EEA nationals last year, and we will continue that robust approach by identifying ways to return them more easily to their countries of origin. I can today announce that we are setting up two new units to work across Departments on how in turn we work with European Union partners to tighten our provisions on criminality and benefits. We will also work closely with employers to ensure that workers can speak the necessary standard of English.

Finally, the Green Paper sets out proposals to simplify and consolidate immigration law, allowing us to increase the efficiency of decision making, strengthen public confidence in the system, and minimise the likelihood of delays and inconsistency in decision making.

Our proposals will make it easier for migrants, decision makers and the public as a whole to understand the rules and have confidence in their operation. This is a comprehensive package of measures to strengthen our immigration system and reinforce our shared values. It will deliver a clear journey to British citizenship that balances rights and benefits with responsibilities and contributions. I commend the statement to the House.