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English test required for permanent residency

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

LONDON -- Britain is seeking to promote a more cohesive nation by requiring people wanting to live permanently in the country to pass a test in English proficiency as well as politics, history and culture.

Such tests have been required since 2004 for those seeking British citizenship, but will be required starting yesterday for those seeking permanent residence.

The test, called "Life in the United Kingdom," is composed of 24 questions about British history, the political system, customs and citizens' rights.

People wanting to become permanent residents could be asked who is the head of the Church of England, when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned or how many members sit in the Scottish Parliament.

Citizens of European Union member countries -- except Romania and Bulgaria, which face immigration quotas -- will be able to continue to live and work in Britain without restriction.

The British government said the measure will help immigrants contribute to the economy by increasing their employment prospects and making them more aware of their rights and responsibilities.

However, Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the new rules "could effectively deny U.K. settlement and citizenship to some of the children in these families indefinitely."

He also complained that fees associated with the test -- totaling close to $80 -- would be difficult for some immigrants to meet.

Facing growing public concerns about immigration, Britain is pursuing a strategy to limit the influx and avoid social divisions.

"It is essential that migrants wishing to live in [Britain] permanently recognize that there are responsibilities that go with this," Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said.

"Having a good grasp of English is essential in order for them to play a full role in society and properly integrate into our communities," he said.

Traumatized by the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks in London, Britain is also aiming to better secure its borders and identify people who enter and leave its territory.

"The days when border control started at the white cliffs of Dover are over. Our immigration control needs to start well before people come anywhere near British shores," Mr. Byrne said.