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Sat, 6 June 2020

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As we reshape our immigration system, we need a fair, affordable and equal route to British citizenship

As we reshape our immigration system, we need a fair, affordable and equal route to British citizenship

With these new opportunities on shaping immigration fit for the 21st century with there come new opportunities to shape citizenship policy too, says Alberto Costa MP | PA Images

4 min read

This new opportunity to shape an immigration system fit for the 21st century brings with it new opportunities to shape citizenship policy too

The government’s new Immigration Bill marks an important moment in the long history of immigration into Britain. While efforts will, understandably, be focused on our desire to meet the country’s needs post-Brexit, we also have a once in a generation opportunity to shape a more compassionate, tolerant and flexible immigration system with a focus on a more expansive and welcoming offer for prospective citizens.

It goes without saying that immigration has proven a controversial issue in Britain for many years. On this subject, it is important to reflect on those areas where we have succeeded, have not met the standard expected of us and instead work to address this accordingly.

There must be a recognition that immigration is a question of balance. It is not unreasonable to suggest that a sovereign nation should have control over its borders, nor is it controversial to say that immigration brings pressures. But we must acknowledge that it also brings significant gains, and finding that balance is crucial.

The new immigration points-based system is designed to identify the skills our country needs and similarly the proposed NHS Visa is there to respond to healthcare shortages post-Brexit.

However the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the tremendous contribution and commitment that many doctors and nurses from overseas have made to our care.

Without them, our nation and our brilliant NHS could not have coped, and this links into building consensus among many that impacts should not be judged solely on the level of salary and taxation paid, but more so by the important contributions being made to wider society.

Just as we have drawn ideas from similar points-based systems in Australia and Canada, I suggest that there is much also to be learned from their approach to citizenship and what it means to become a citizen.

Of course, while the immigration debate will focus on the introduction of the points-based system, I would ask the Government to also look beyond this; to what happens after the workforce have arrived, after they have made their homes here and after they have built their lives and livelihoods.

With these new opportunities on shaping immigration fit for the 21st century with there come new opportunities to shape citizenship policy too.

Just as we have drawn ideas from similar points-based systems in Australia and Canada, I suggest that there is much also to be learned from their approach to citizenship and what it means to become a citizen.

We should not underestimate the tremendous desire many have for British citizenship. Our island nation still stands to many as a beacon of democracy, law and order and civility and for those who wish to come here, to work hard, and to make a commitment, we should welcome them with open arms.

If the purpose of our new immigration system is to seek out individuals for our needs, it seems only fair that we meet them half-way in giving them something back, in repaying that faith we have put in them through a fair, affordable and equal route to British citizenship.

It is not easy to become a British citizen, and nor should it be.

There are firm measures in place for the precious status of becoming a British citizen, but for those who have made the commitment and contribution to our country, we must remove the prohibitive and costly barriers that bar so many valued members of our society of their desire to become fully integrated and incur the rights and responsibilities that come with becoming a British citizen.

Perhaps the foremost barrier is the cost; at £1,330 it is among the world’s highest (and that is without the expensive legal advice usually required for an average application).

In fact, for almost that price, one could become a citizen of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France and the USA, all at the same time, such is the disparity between our nation’s costs and that of other Western nations.

For those who have given so much, and persevered through the lengthy process, cost should not then be the final and largest barrier toward British citizenship.

Only slight and subtle changes are required to find that balanced approach and therefore to achieve a goal of meeting the needs to the nation while matching those tremendous contributions made by so many from overseas who call our fantastic country home.

 

Alberto Costa is Conservative MP for South Leicestershire

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