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 Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 18:32 GMT
Immigration shake-up unveiled
David Blunkett
Asylum seekers will face a new system in the UK
People applying to become British citizens will face much tougher tests, under far-reaching new proposals.

Ministers want to introduce exams to test applicants' English and make them swear an oath of allegiance at a formal ceremony.

Main plans
English test and citizenship exam for those wanting nationality
Nationality applicants will have to swear an oath of allegiance
Faster processing of asylum claims
Green card system for workers from overseas
Tougher sentences for people traffickers
New measures against bogus marriages

They also want a faster processing system for asylum seekers, and a crackdown on bogus marriages.

People entering the country would need to have a basic grasp of English and an understanding of British laws and institutions.

The proposals are at the centre of an immigration and asylum system white paper unveiled by the Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett argues that stopping asylum being used as a political football will remove it from the armoury of far-right groups.

'Backwards step'

But opponents, including former Labour minister Tony Benn, say the proposals amount to a revival of nationalism.

Mr Benn said plans to make migrants swear an oath of allegiance were a step backwards in an increasingly international world.

The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Nick Hardwick, said the White Paper did not address concerns about the "unfairness" of the asylum application process.

"Good quality decisions need to be at the heart of any asylum system if it is to be seen as credible," he said.

The White Paper has been broadly welcomed by the Conservatives.

But Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin urged the government to work with the French authorities to close the Sangatte refugee centre, near Calais.

'Integration but diversity'

Under Mr Blunkett's plans, immigrants will also be asked to take part in citizenship ceremonies and to swear a new "citizenship pledge" - similar in style to those held in the US and which does not mention the Queen.

The proposed oath reads: "I will respect the rights and freedoms of the United Kingdom. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen."

There will be new measures also to crackdown on bogus marriages.

Knowledge of English would be "mandatory" for those applying for British nationality, Mr Blunkett told the BBC.

Rioting in Bradford this summer
Summer riots prompted a rethink on integration
But there would be a "light touch approach" focusing on a working understanding of the language learnt alongside other education about "our laws, our values, our institutions".

Mr Blunkett said a comprehensive nationality and immigration policy was needed to build trust that there were alternatives to people trying to enter the UK hidden on trains and cargo ships.

The plans could "settle once and for all the fear that the asylum issue, as opposed to overall policy on nationality and immigration, will constantly reappear as a political football and as a weapon in the armoury of the National Front and BNP", he said.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes told MPs urged the greatest possible consultation about the new citizenship tests.

Human trafficking

The plans also make it easier for people who are filling a gap in the workforce to stay in the UK through a scheme similar to the US green card system.

But there will be tougher sentences for those smuggling people into the UK.

Asylum seekers at Eurotunnel
Asylum seekers may have to swear allegiance oath

Mr Blunkett confirmed that vouchers for asylum seekers would be replaced by cash in the autumn, a move welcomed by the Refugee Council.

Mr Blunkett outlined further his plans for a four-tier system of centres to cover all new asylum seekers from applications through to removals.

Secure removal centres would be established for those refused asylum.

There will also be a new "gateway" set up under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugeesor to provide a legitimate route for genuine asylum seekers to enter the country.

  The BBC's John Pienaar
"Refugee groups say asylum seekers need proper help and advice"
  UK Home Secretary David Blunkett
"We need a global view of this"
  Gurbux Singh, Commission for Racial Equality
"There are many positive aspects"

Talking PointFORUM
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See also:

07 Feb 02 | Politics
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