New British proposals slammed for targetting legal Indian migrants

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Fresh immigration proposals unveiled by the British government Monday are wrong because they target legal rather than illegal migrants and discriminate against people from the Indian subcontinent, the chairman of the parliament’s home affairs committee said.

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“These are preposterous proposals that have never been discussed either in the Labour party or in parliament,” Keith Vaz, Britain’s longest-serving MP of Indian origin, said after the government listed proposals that include cutting off child benefit payments for wives of legal migrants.

“They are unworkable, expensive and deal with legal migrants whereas what worries people in the UK is illegal immigration,” said Vaz.

“These are half-baked proposals that give out the worst possible message — they clearly discriminate against people from the Indian subcontinent in particular,” he told IANS.

Vaz spoke out after Britain’s Home Secretary Alan Johnson unveiled proposals that he said will make it harder for legal migrants who have been allowed to work in Britain under a strict Points Based System to get British citizenship.

Currently, Indians and other non-Europeans can enter Britain only after satisfying overseas visa officers that they are fluent in English, have the necessary qualifications and skills that Britain is looking for and already earn a high salary in their home country.

After five years of working and paying their taxes without a criminal record, they are given the status of ‘indefinite leave to remain’, at which point they can apply for British citizenship, which is granted after they have passed a written test on life in Britain.

Under the new proposals announced Monday:-

— The status of ‘indefinite leave to remain’ will be granted after 10 years of employment, rather than the current five years;

— People on ‘indefinite leave to remain’ will not get any of the state benefits that Britons are entitled to;

— There will be a period of ‘earned citizenship’, which will involve doing up to three years of unpaid voluntary work, including trade union work;

— Applicants will have to show commitment to ‘British values’, and will be penalised for participating in anti-war protests; and

— The citizenship tests will include sections on British history and politics.

The proposals will become law in early 2011 if parliament votes them through.

The plans include banning wives who join their husbands, mainly from India and Pakistan, from receiving child benefit and a wide range of other state aid unless they learn English, support British values and do voluntary work in the community.

Under existing laws, wives are automatically given indefinite leave to remain after two years.

Vaz said the proposal to stop wives from receiving child benefit — a fixed weekly sum that every British mother is entitled to — would create “an administrative nightmare”.

Damien Green, the home affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservative party, rejected the proposals, saying: “This is an act of desperation by a government that knows it has let immigration run out of control.”

The proposals come as Labour poll ratings continue to fall ahead of general elections due by June 3, 2010.

A Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll last week found that 70 percent of voters now disapprove of the government’s record, with only 17 percent approving — a rating that is identical to that of the government led by Conservative Prime Minister John Major in July 1996.

Nine months later, the Conservatives were swept from power by Labour.