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A points-based system to 'earn' British citizenship

world Updated: Aug 09, 2009 11:57 IST
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The British government has come up with a new idea on how to tailor citizenship to political loyalty and the country's economic needs.

Under a new points system, an applicant's skills and respect for British values will count in his/her favour, while those showing an "active disregard" for these values will be penalised by having points taken away.

The new points test for citizenship was launched this week in a Home Office consultation paper, entitled Earning the Right to stay in Britain.

After a consultation period, the system is expected to come into force in 2011, applying to some 160,000 legal migrants who seek British citizenship each year.

It currently takes between three and five years of lawful residence to qualify for a British passport.

Points will be linked to qualifications and potential earnings, as well as a commitment to Britain, on top of the already existing requirements of a citizenship oath and knowledge of language, customs, history and the constitution.

Points would be deducted if applicants for citizenship "fail to integrate into the British way of life", exhibit criminal or anti-social behaviour, or get involved in "any circumstances where an active disregard for UK values is demonstrated".

While the Home Office was unable to explain the exact meaning of these terms, British media have been quick to pick up on the point that migrants questioning British troop deployment abroad or taking part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardise their chances of gaining a British passport.

"Clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important, and we think it's fair to ask that," Home Office Immigration Minister Phil Woolas explained.

His comments have been criticised in press comment which has pointed out the apparent contradiction between preserving democratic values while denying free speech to passport applicants.

Asked on the BBC whether he was effectively saying to applicants that they could demonstrate as much as they liked once they had a British passport - but not before - Woolas replied: "In essence, yes."

The Liberal Party's home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, said: "There should be no question of barring people because they criticise government policy. Democratic values must come first."

Woolas, however, apart from expecting applicants to embrace the "British way of life", has made clear that the proposals are also designed to control immigration by "breaking the automatic link between coming to Britain temporarily to work or study and staying permanently".

"We are going to introduce these proposals to make sure we can control migration, and the impact of migration," he said. "Under these proposals you will have a period of earning your citizenship."

The proposals, under which migrants would be given extra points for moving to regions with skill and labour shortages, were preferable to an "arbitrary cap" on migration, said Woolas.

They would "bring better confidence to the public", in areas which were "overburdened" by migrants.

"The new path to citizenship aims to create the right balance for Britain, allowing us to better manage and provide support for those on the journey to citizenship," he said.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Birmingham-born stand-up comedian and columnist Shazia Mirza said the new system reminded her of the public school experience where points would be taken away for bad behaviour.

"I'm very British," she wrote. "I love sport and support Britain in everything - except cricket, when I support Pakistan. I have a friend who says she's British; she wears a hijab and a union-flag G-string. That's real integration."

The government, she warned, was grooming migrants, and the whole population, for "unquestioning compliance".

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