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EDITIONS
Friday, 26 October, 2001, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Immigrants 'to take citizen classes'
David Blunkett visits a Sheffield mosque
David Blunkett wants to promote common citizenship
Home Secretary David Blunkett is considering making citizenship classes a condition of citizenship for new immigrants, according to newspaper reports.

Mr Blunkett wants would-be citizens to be schooled in British democracy and culture, the Guardian reported on Friday.

New citizens will also be obliged to learn English under the reported plans, a measure that is likely to draw criticism from refugee welfare groups.


A political community can require new members to learn about its basic procedures and fundamental values

David Blunkett
It is believed the US-style citizenship classes will be part of a strategy to tackle growing evidence of racial segregation in British cities.

The newspaper reported they would be used to challenge "the deeply held beliefs and prejudices" of some immigrants.

Right-wingers have expressed concerns in the past that the UK is granting residency and then citizenship to a small number of immigrants who believe in practices out of step with modern Britain, such as female genital mutilation.

It is hoped it can be ensured that the 60,000 people who apply for citizenship know these practices are not accepted in the UK.

'Welcome message'

Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire who faced controversy earlier this year after remarks over immigrant language skills, said the classes scheme would be "very good".

"I think it's excellent. I think what we're saying to people is that we really do value you being here," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "It will encourage them to learn English, it will encourage integration and in the aftermath of the riots in various northern towns surely we must welcome this."

Ann Cryer
Cryer caused controversy with her language remarks
Ms Cryer said she understood the idea would apply not to newly arrived immigrants but to people applying for British citizenship.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the report was "completely speculative" and no announcements on the issue had been made.

She said Mr Blunkett had mentioned in a speech on Thursday that he wanted to improve political literacy throughout the population and was considering ways of better integrating those who had been recently naturalised or had received permanent residency to the UK.

Statement soon

Another spokesman said the home secretary would make a Commons statement on asylum, immigration and nationality soon - probably next week.

The publication of a white paper on the issue will follow, including new plans for a "green card" system for key foreign workers.

Mr Blunkett has said: "A political community can require new members to learn about its basic procedures and fundamental values.

"I believe we need to educate new migrants in citizenship and help them to develop an understanding of our language, democracy and culture."

Liberal worries

But liberals are likely to attack any aspect of the changes that could harm multiculturalism.

The citizenship classes in the US are accompanied by tests on history and culture that many Americans admit they would find hard to pass.

Ajmal Mofroor, London branch president of the Islamic Society of Britain, said he was a "bit sceptical" about the idea.

English classes for immigrants were a good idea but "to talk about classes to make citizens more contributory citizens of Britain is something controversial - we would like to know what that means", he told the Today programme.

The Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, said there were "quite a few questions that need to be worked out", such as how new immigrants offered citizenship would be dealt with under the scheme.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Ann Cryer, Labour MP
and Habib Rahman, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Daniel Cane, US Immigration and Naturalisation
explains how citizenship classes operate in the United States
Find out more about the violence in northern England during the summer of 2001


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