Immigration plan will reward returns home

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Indy Politics

Immigrants could speed their progress towards British citizenship - by returning to their home country, it was revealed today.

As part of the proposed points-based system for migrants who want a passport, ministers are considering tougher language and history tests to help integration.

Migrants could be given extra points for their skills, jobs and qualifications, while bad behaviour would cost them points.

But the Government is also looking at giving points to workers who take skills back to their country of origin.

If they carry out development work at home it could help their chances of becoming British when they return to the UK.

The Home Office's own impact assessment warns such a move could actually slow down their adoption of British values and culture.

It states: "Encouraging future citizens to spend long periods out of the UK doesn't aid the process of integration into British life."

Another measure under consideration would allow migrants to go home and not lose out on time they had been granted to live in the UK.

Their "leave to remain" would be put on hold while they are abroad, and could be restarted at a later date without them having to go through entry checks.

The impact assessment states: "Migrants legally resident in the UK could return home for extended periods and apply a 'pause' button on their leave in the UK, meaning they could return to the UK without having to reapply for entry clearance."

The proposals are intended to encourage "cyclical migration" from the UK to other countries, to help tackle the brain drain of talented workers.

Currently, anyone applying for citizenship cannot spend more than 450 days out of the last five years outside the country, or more than 90 days out of the last year.

The consultation document, entitled "Earning the Right to Stay", aims to break the automatic link between coming to the UK temporarily to work or study and staying permanently.

Ministers say the changes will enable them to control the numbers of people becoming citizens, by moving the qualification bar up or down.

Failing to fulfil the requirements could see individuals kicked out. Points could be deducted for crime, anti-social behaviour, or "failing to integrate into the British way of life".

Migrants who live and work in areas where there is a shortage - such as Scotland - could be given extra points.

Applicants would take one test on the British way of life when applying for probationary citizenship and another, more difficult test at the end of their probation period.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the citizenship proposals were designed to control immigration, admitting that some areas of the country had been "overburdened" by migrants.

He said: "We are going to introduce these proposals to make sure we can control migration to bring better confidence to the public and, of course, control the impact of migration.

"Under these proposals you will have to have a period earning your citizenship in which you don't get access to benefits, and then to become a citizen you will have to pass some of the criteria."

He added: "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.

"But it is important also to recognise the impacts - both positive and negative - which migration can have on source countries in the developing world.

"We believe it is right that Government should play a role in managing negative impacts on developing countries."

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaign group Migrationwatch UK, welcomed the plans and the admission in the document that immigration is the "main component" of the rising population.

He said: "After years of denial, the Government has at last recognised that immigration is the main component of population growth.

"These reforms would break the virtually automatic link between work permits and settlement.

"It's an important step forward as it will allow us to draw on foreign skills without adding yet more to our population, which is heading for 70 million in the next 20 years."

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: "The Labour Government's open-door immigration policy has not benefited the UK, nor the countries of origin hindered by 'brain drain'. These proposals are tinkering at the edges of a far wider problem. It is time to get a grip on the consequences caused by unlimited immigration."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "This is yet more tinkering with the immigration system from a Government that has created a record number of new British citizens.

"This system only deals with legal migration. The Government still has no idea how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living here.

"With the proposal that people could be barred for unpatriotic behaviour, it looks as if the Government wants to play the Thought Police.

"But there should be no question of barring people because they criticise Government policy. Democratic values must come first."