Britain halts immigration

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LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

LONDON — Tens of thousands of immigrant workers will be forced to learn English before they are allowed into Britain under a plan Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce tomorrow in a speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton, informed sources revealed yesterday.

The rules, expected to reduce the number of people entering Britain by at least 35,000 a year, will affect those from countries outside the European Union who are seeking to work and settle permanently in Britain.

“Those who we welcome into the UK to work and settle here need to understand our traditions and feel that they are part of our shared national culture,” Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said. “They need to integrate into our country, learn English and use our language.”

Mr. Brown’s aides said the initiative will form a “key plank” of the Labor Party government’s new policy on immigration. It will be seen as another shift to the right following the prime minister’s moves to block supercasinos and to review the decision to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug.

The new policy will present opposition leader David Cameron with a dilemma: If he attacks Mr. Brown’s plan, he risks once again angering his “core support” among right-of-center voters. Mr. Cameron is trying to reposition the Conser-vatives as a modern, compassionate party and has shied from referring to immigration.

Under the government’s new “points” system, there are three main categories of immigrants coming to Britain from outside the European Union to work — highly skilled, skilled and low-skilled workers. The first two groups eventually can settle permanently in Britain; the third group cannot.

Highly skilled migrants have been forced to learn English as a condition of entry since last December. However, Mr. Brown and Mrs. Smith will announce this week that the condition will be extended to all skilled migrants, who numbered 96,000 last year.

According to government source, about 35,000 of them would not have passed a test for speaking English. They will be now be expected to speak, write and understand English to a standard equivalent to passing secondary school in Britain with grades A to C, obtaining proof either by passing an internationally recognized English test or showing they have a university degree from a course taught in English.

Mr. Brown and Mrs. Smith also will announce a review of whether the new restrictions should be extended to low-skilled workers, such as fruit pickers, even though they are not allowed to settle permanently in Britain.

The new rules will have only a handful of exemptions, likely to include international soccer players signed by Premier League clubs who will be allowed in for “practical reasons,” said government sources.

The new policy builds on a previous speech by Mr. Brown, in which he stressed his preference for training unemployed and low-skilled Britons to fill the country’s skills gap rather than relying on additional migrants.

“At present, people who seek to come to the UK permanently, or as highly skilled workers, are required to speak English. We want to go further and make speaking English a requirement for all those coming into the UK to do lesser-skilled work, and we will be looking at extending this requirement to those who come to the UK to do low-skilled work as well,” Mrs. Smith said.

Statistics show that immigrants who speak English competently are far more likely to succeed in the British labor market than those who do not. Government estimates suggest the likely earnings of migrant workers who speak English are about 20 percent higher than those who don’t.

Shortly before he became prime minister in June, Mr. Brown said at a trade union conference: “It is time to train British workers for the British jobs that will be available over the coming few years and to make sure that people who are inactive and unemployed are able to get the new jobs on offer in our country.”

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