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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
Britain's brave new nationals
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Kurdish immigrants are granted access to the UK
Around 110,000 people become naturalised Britons every year
The government is revealing its long-awaited citizenship test - but what do the UK's future citizens look like?

Who becomes a British citizen?

Those of us born within these isles take our birth certificates, driving licences and passports for granted. But for those who come to our shores to make a new life, those documents are real symbols of new identity.

The Home Office is revealing what formal steps these would-be citizens will have to take in the future to become British - but who is it who is filling in the application forms for a visa to a new life?

In 2002 the number of people who actually became British rose by a third to a record 120,145. Ten years earlier, some 42,245 people had been granted citizenship.

One theory for the sudden rise in 2002 is that many people already eligible decided to make the step before the much-publicised changes to the citizenship process, such as the language test, came into force.

Of those who were granted the passport displaying the Royal Crest, some three-quarters became British because they were already living here or married to a British citizen. Some 26,000 children of immigrants were also given citizenship.

New neighbours

So where do our new neighbours come from?

The overwhelming majority of new citizens come from Africa (31%) and Asia (43%), the largest three groups being people from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

But what the figures really show us is that the UK is now perhaps second only to the United States for the sheer diversity of people who make it home.

Post-war immigration began with groups from the Commonwealth, while a small number of Brits chose to leave for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

New British citizens
But the 1990s has seen the emergence of many more communities from Asia through to South America.

One of the growing groups is new citizens from Europe. Two emerging groups in London are the Turkish and the Kurdish communities.

Turkish nationals - which would include many ethnic Kurds - came fourth on the table of new citizens in 2002, some 8,045 in total. More than 1,000 of these were children born in the UK.

Some 1,700 people from Bosnia became British last year, many of whom would have living here as refugees from the Balkans conflict.

Another group to emerge in the figures - albeit comprising a tiny proportion of the total - is Russians. Almost 1,200 of them became British last year, 475 through marriage.

From the Americas, some 945 Colombians were naturalised in 2002, about three times as many as the previous year.

The majority of those being granted British citizenship were people aged between 25 and 44. Only 4% of the new citizens were over 60.

What makes this figure so important is that most economists say this is what we need - working age people to prop up an ageing population.

Take-up rates

In general, someone has to have been resident for at least five years to become British - and this is an area the Home Office has studied in depth to see how it would relate to the citizenship test.

It found that just over half of those who could become British had done so within six years (adding a year for the process).

But there were wide disparities depending on where people had come from and when people decided to do it.

People born in industrialised countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand were far less likely to seek citizenship than those from developing countries.

The residents least likely to apply for citizenship were people from the Irish Republic.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the decades of immigration ties, people from the Indian sub-continent were most likely to have become British within six years, followed by people from the Middle East and Africa.

Over time, that take-up rate tends to increase. After 20 years of living in the UK, people from African nations are the most likely to have become British - but those from the Irish Republic the least.

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