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Britain Tightens Immigration Rules

The British government is considering new rules and requirements for people who wish to become British citizens. These include plans to make immigrants to pay higher application fees to help fund schools, hospitals and other government services they use. Tendai Maphosa has the details in this report for VOA from London.

The proposed increase in application fees was announced by Britain's Home Office Secretary of State Jacqui Smith as part of several new requirements that she described to parliament Wednesday as a new deal on citizenship.

"I am today proposing a fund to help local service providers to deal with impacts on our local communities of rapid changes in population," she said. "Money for the fund will come from charging migrants an additional amount on immigration application fees."

In addition, Smith said, those who wish to make Britain their home would be granted temporary residence for five years after which they would have probationary citizenship for a year. They could then obtain full citizenship if they pass a test. Smith said prospective citizens should be able to speak English, work hard and pay taxes, obey the law, and contribute to community life.

"We should reward those who play a more active role in the community," she said. "We will therefore enable people to move more quickly through the system where they have made a positive contribution to British life by for example volunteering with a charity.

She said such community service would enhance the immigrant's chances of getting citizenship.

However, the government's plan to have immigrants pay more has been criticized by the Immigration Advisory Services - a charity providing legal advice and representation for immigrants and asylum seekers. Speaking on local radio, its chief executive, Keith Best, said the proposed increase in application fees is regrettable. He dismissed the measure as simply a way to cover a shortfall in government income.

The opposition Conservative party called the proposals a "gimmick". Instead it advocates an annual limit on immigration. The party's shadow home secretary David Davis called the plan "a complicated, expensive, bureaucratic set of mechanisms to deal with the adverse consequences of out of control immigration".

The increased application fees would not affect migrants arriving from European Union member countries, since they do not need a visa to live and work in the UK.