British political leaders from the left and the right are blaming liberal immigration policies for driving down living standards amid a financial crisis that has prompted the Conservative-led government to cut welfare programs to prevent fiscal collapse.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who said this year that multiculturalism has failed in Britain, is calling on immigrants to learn English fluently, “make a contribution” to the economy and society and avoid being a “burden on the welfare system and the taxpayer.”
Labor Party leader Ed Miliband recently conceded that his party “got some things wrong” on immigration during its 13 years in power. He acknowledged public concern that a rapid influx of Eastern Europeans in the past decade has driven down living standards in Britain.
Britain has the third-largest population of foreign-born citizens in Europe. More than 4 million people in Britain were born abroad, 6.6 percent of the population of 63 million. They include people born abroad to British nationals.
Opinion polls consistently have shown that the British public favors a reduction in immigration.
A poll this week from the nonpartisan Migration Observatory at Oxford University found that 69 percent of respondents want immigration reduced, an amount consistent with surveys conducted over the past 50 years.
The prime minister has proposed cutting net immigration, which includes families of visa holders, from about 196,000 a year now to fewer than 100,000 by 2015. The country has imposed tougher limits on the number of non-Europeans allowed to work in the country.
In a recent speech, Mr. Cameron insisted that all immigrants who want to come to Britain to join relatives must speak English fluently. He also called on immigrants to learn English before they are eligible for welfare.
“We’re saying that if there’s something you need to help you get a job, for instance being able to speak English and learn English properly, it should be a requirement…in order for you to receive your benefits,” he said.