Low-skilled workers from outside the EU were yesterday banned from Britain as the Government finally admitted worries about immigration are not confined to ‘Alf Garnetts’.
The Home Office—which said it could not ignore public alarm over immigration—also unveiled plans to stop foreigners entering the country on a marriage visa if they fail an English test.
In a further move targeting arranged marriages which take place in India and Pakistan, the age at which a British citizen can bring a husband or wife into the country from abroad will be raised to 21.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said Britain is not a nation of ‘Alf Garnetts’—a reference to the racist television comedy character.
He said the public has legitimate concerns which need addressing, before conceding: “We ignore concerns about the wider impact of immigration at our peril.”
Foreign workers such as teachers and plumbers from countries such as Poland, which is part of the EU, do not face the new restrictions—but from outside the EU they would only be allowed in if there was a skills shortage under new plans
Critics say the ban on low-skilled workers will have little impact, because the Government remains powerless to limit arrivals from inside the EU—including Eastern Europe.
Government officials admit the 20,000 low-skilled migrants who will be turned away each year will simply be replaced by Romanians and Bulgarians, who joined the EU earlier this year.
There were also question marks over the crackdown on marriage visas, which allows 41,100 immigrants to enter the country each year.
It is certain to face challenges under the Human Rights Act, which protects a couple’s fundamental right to marriage and a family life.
The Home Office is also likely to include loopholes on the English test, allowing some spouses a short period of grace to live in Britain if they fail the exam.
But the language used by ministers—along with the open confirmation it is not racist to worry about immigration—shows they are at last admitting the unprecedented influx of arrivals from abroad cannot continue.
Mr Byrne will say in a speech today: “What emerges from the debate I’ve listened to is British reason at its finest.
“Sophisticated, intelligent views and a profound sense of fairness and tolerance for a Britain in which we live and let live and actually try a bit harder to be a bit more welcoming, and a bit less shy about saying hello.
“We are not a nation of Alf Garnetts. But the deal we want to put on the table is not unconditional.
“On the contrary, the rules are unambiguous—speak the language, obey the law, and make sure you’re paying your taxes like the rest of us.
“It is a very British tough-minded fairness.
“And there is a sense in the public mind that the sooner newcomers start on the type of journey we have in mind, the better.”
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, in her first major speech on immigration, said yesterday: “For all its undoubted benefits, the increased flow of migration that the UK and other countries have experienced has brought with it important challenges.”
The ban on low-skilled workers will be included in the introduction of a points-based system for all migrants, due early next year.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will call the measures the ‘biggest shake-up of our immigration system in our history’
Originally, a tier had been set aside for labourers and fruit pickers from outside the EU.
But that has been suspended for the ‘foreseeable future’.
Instead, any unskilled jobs will be taken by EU workers.
Opponents say the Government is ‘closing the door after the horse has bolted’, with migrants from Asia and Africa being punished for poor decision-making over EU expansion.
English tests for spouses will also target developing countries.
They were introduced for foreigners taking British citizenship from November 2005 and were extended to those seeking settlement in April this year.
Widening the scope to spouses is expected to have a particular impact on the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, which between them saw 17,000 spouses enter the UK last year.
o Foreign criminals with unspent convictions will finally be barred from winning citizenship, the Home Office said last night.
It follows revelations that one of the July 21 bombers had been handed a passport despite a string of criminal convictions.
Current rules allow foreign criminals to be granted citizenship, regardless of their offence, provided they manage a ‘clear’ period without breaking the law.
Jacqui Smith said any convict jailed for 30 months or more would be banned. So would anybody guilty of a violent, sexual or drugs crime.
Foreigners guilty of minor misdemeanours would be blocked until their conviction was considered spent.