5 Dec 2007 03:11 PM
Home Secretary today sets out plans to manage migration and protect British values

HOME OFFICE News Release (188/2007) issued by The Government News Network on 5 December 2007

The countdown to the transformation of the immigration system began today when the Home Secretary announced new rules for highly skilled foreign workers applying to come to the UK.

In a wide ranging speech at the London School of Economics, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced changes to the UK's immigration regime to ensure the system is firm but fair and supports Britain's shared values.

The proposals published today include: plans to ensure that migrants can integrate into communities through strengthened requirements for English language; plans to ensure all migrants play by the rules with strengthened restrictions on citizenship for those who break the law and protection for vulnerable people through measures to combat forced marriage.

Jacqui Smith said:
"Migration brings great social and economic benefits to this country. But people expect it to be managed robustly and in support of Britain's national interests. That's why we're launching the countdown to our new Points Based System which will begin in less than 100 days.

"The Points Based System will build on a package of measures already being introduced to deliver a more secure border. These include: new electronic checks to count people in and out of the UK and clamp down on illegal immigration; fingerprinting of visa applicants around the world before they are allowed to enter Britain; and the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals.

"I want people coming to live and work in the UK and their families to be able to integrate fully into our society. So as well as our existing and planned requirements for English language proficiency, attached to settlement, citizenship and for skilled workers, I am today publishing proposals for new requirements for spouses who plan to settle here to have some knowledge of English prior to arrival.

"I believe it is right that we protect those at risk and that is why I am proposing that the age at which a person can sponsor or be sponsored to come to the UK for marriage is raised from 18 to 21.

"For those foreign nationals already living and working in the UK, I also believe that it is right that they play by the rules. That is why I want to strengthen our ability to block the privilege of citizenship to those with a criminal record. After all British citizenship is a privilege, not a right."

The Government's Australian-style Points Based System and the new independent Migration Advisory Committee, which will meet for the first time on 7 December, will provide new, robust machinery to ensure that only those who meet the needs of the UK will be allowed to enter and work.

The statement of intent for Tier 1 shows how the new tier will replace eight existing immigration routes for people who are highly skilled, entrepreneurs, investors or have undertaken studies to a high level and want to stay in the UK to work. Applicants will earn points for their skills and the potential they show for economic success, competence in English language and ability to support themselves and their dependents.

New measures to help to protect the vulnerable from being pressurised into forced marriage were proposed by the Home Office in a consultation published today. Proposals include raising the minimum age at which people can come to this country for marriage from 18 to 21. A separate consultation, also published today seeks views on the introduction of an English language test before entry for people applying for a spouse visa to help to encourage successful integration.

A reform of the system was also announced to make it even harder for foreigners with criminal convictions to ever become British. Under new guidance, which will apply from 1 January 2008, it will be made absolutely clear that people with an unspent conviction will normally be refused nationality.

Notes to editors
1. The statement of intent for tier 1 of PBS can be found at: http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk

Tier 1 is the first of five tiers of the PBS due to be rolled out over the next 18 months. Tier 2, targeting skilled workers with a job offer and Tier 5, for temporary workers such as musicians, actors and sportsmen will both come on line in the third quarter of 2008. Tier 4, for students, will follow at the beginning of 2009.

Tier 3, which covers low skilled routes, will only be used if specific shortages are identified that cannot be filled from the UK on domestic or European labour force.

2. The consultation paper, 'Marriage to partners from overseas a consultation paper, can be found at http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk The consultation fulfils the promise made earlier this year to consult on new arrangements for marriage visas in the Home Office strategy 'Securing the UK Border'. The deadline for responses is 27 February 2008.

3. The consultation paper, 'Marriage visas: Pre-entry English language requirement for spouses - a consultation paper', can be found at http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk The deadline for responses is 27 February 2008.

4. The Home Office together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has already made some progress in tackling forced marriage by creating the Forced Marriage Unit in 2005. The Government's Forced Marriage Unit deals with around 5,000 inquiries and helps rescue up to 300 women, children and men who are trapped in an abusive, forced marriages every year.

5. In the past the Nationality Department has applied a policy whereby a foreign national with a serious criminal conviction some time in the past might conceivably pass the "good character" test if they have not been reconvicted, and taking a range of other factors into account. This is not acceptable and is now being changed, so that from 1 January, no one who has a conviction which is not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will normally be able to be granted citizenship.

Anyone subject to a good character test will be refused citizenship if their convictions are unspent. The only people not requiring a good character test are British nationals, those under ten, and the stateless. Good character tests do not just take into account criminality, but also an applicant's financial affairs, and whether they have practiced deceit in their dealings with Government departments.