Tests in the English language and the British way of life will be compulsory from next year for foreigners wanting to settle here, the Government said yesterday.
It will bring long-term immigrants into line with people who seek UK citizenship, who already have to sit the tests.
Last year 180,000 people were granted settlement to stay. Some go on to seek British nationality but others may choose to retain their own while staying permanently.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said: “It is essential that migrants wishing to live in the UK permanently recognise that there are responsibilities that go with this.
“Having a good grasp of English is essential in order for them to play a full role in society and properly integrate into our communities.”
Applicants who already possess a good standard of English will take the existing Life in the UK exam.
Immigrants with poorer English can take a specially developed English for Speakers of Other Languages course with a simplified citizenship course.
Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that subjecting applicants for indefinite leave to remain in the UK (ILR) to the same tests as those seeking British citizenship would send out “confusing messages”.
“ILR does not confer the same set of rights and protections on applicants as UK citizenship,” he said. “Persons with ILR are still subject to the immigration rules in a way that UK citizens are not.
“Also, this seems designed to place an extra hurdle in the path of people applying for ILR who have already fulfilled other criteria.
“It is evident that education providers cannot deal with existing demand for English language training. We question why the Government wants to generate more demand.”
The Life in the UK test is aimed at those with a good grasp of English and their pass mark will be at least 75 per cent. Each applicant sits a 45-minute exam of 24 questions to show a basic knowledge of national culture.
Those less accomplished in English can attend a combined language and citizenship class instead. They will be expected to complete the course “successfully” but do not have to pass the exam to gain citizenship.
The computer-based, multiple-choice examination are available at 90 test centres from today. Candidates who fail can retake the test as many times as they wish.
A Government handbook, Life in the UK, contains much of the information that will feature in the tests, including what to do if you spill someone’s pint in a pub (offer to buy another).