More migrants are becoming British citizens. And it could help to calm concerns about immigration

Settling down and ‘fitting in’ are valued deeply by migrants and long-settled residents alike.

Settling down and ‘ fitting in’ are valued deeply by migrants and long-settled residents alike

Here’s some good news: the number of migrants seeking British citizenship has boomed over the past decade.

That was not how the Times reported it this week of course. They, in the way of much of the media on immigration issues, complained of passport ‘giveaways’ and ‘soft touch Britain’.

In fact, while citizenship numbers have been growing – nearly 200,000 thousand people from overseas became British citizens in 2012, and more than 2 million have done so since the turn of the century – the British government has been raising the bar for those seeking naturalisation.

Since 2004, the cost of applying for British citizenship has escalated significantly. At just under £1,000, the fee is almost five times the cost of German or Canadian citizenship. Conditions have also been tightened to include a demanding English language exam, a ‘good character’ requirement and a challenging ‘Life in the UK’ test.

So why have migrants not been put off? There are some practical benefits to naturalisation. The main is undoubtedly peace of mind (we can assume that the feverish debate about migration and Britain’s position in the EU may is being factored in by the growing number of migrants seeking British citizenship).

But other more symbolic factors are also at play: being able to exert democratic rights, wanting to share the nationality of a British partners or children, simply feeling a sense of belonging.

Still, it may not be obvious why an increase in migrants becoming British citizens is cause for celebration at time when the migration debate is so divisive.  The clue to why this is true lies in the now well evidenced fact that British people, contrary to received wisdom perhaps, strongly  favour settlement over temporary migration.

This was born out again in a poll published by British Future this week. It showed that a significant majority of British people (63 per cent) prefer permanent settlement over guest worker schemes. IPPR’s research has also confirmed that settling down and ‘ fitting in’ are valued deeply by migrants and long-settled residents alike.

Meanwhile surveys of naturalised migrants also show that they tend to feel a higher affinity to Britain than natives.

By contrast, the transience and churn which the public  have come to associate with a lot of EU migration has helped drive anxiety about issue.

All these factors combined mean that as migrants settle and become citizens we might expect the tensions caused by high migration to be reduced.

At present all the policy focus is on trying to further restrict migration. That’s understandable given the current political climate, but at some stage policy makers need to look more at how the migrants that are already here – and the ones who will continue to come in future – fit into our society more easily.

Part of that should include making the naturalisation process more meaningful and less transactional and top down. Those seeking citizenship should be encouraged to become active members of their communities through a systems of incentives (such as a reduction in fees for those who actively volunteer in the community).

Citizenship ceremonies should be localised and performed at the heart of neighbourhoods with the active participation of local residents, rather than behind closed doors in town halls. Tests should focus on the practicalities of living in Britain, not on knowledge of historical facts which can easily be crammed from the many manuals available online.

And the considerable fees which are being levied should be reinvested into ensuring that British people and new citizens build a shared life together n the communities where they live.

Such reforms should not be viewed as a way of reducing migration numbers. As the recent trends demonstrate, powerful forces are at play which drive migration and incentivise people to seek naturalisation. But they would contribute to wider, and arguably more meaningful, goal: building a strong society where people feel like they can play an active role.

Phoebe Griffiths  is associate director of IPPR

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31 Responses to “More migrants are becoming British citizens. And it could help to calm concerns about immigration”

  1. JoeDM

    Why are we giving away our citizenship to those who do not intend to integrate into normal British society?

  2. wj

    It’s not only a matter of whether immigrants fit in with the population already here – it’s whether the indigenous population wants to integrate with the incomers.

    You can’t force people to integrate.

  3. Just Visiting

    Phoebe, you quote stats from British Future – but

    A) their document is not a neutral document – it’s called ‘British Future’s new pamphlet,
    ‘How to talk about immigration’.

    Ie it’s a partisan document, telling the reader how to spin immigration in line with BF’s views such as :

    > How not to talk about immigration – lessons for migration liberals…
    > the task for “pro-migration” liberals is to understand that they must think and sound different if they want to connect…

    B) your claim is misleading: you claim the document says:
    > significant majority of British people (63 per cent) prefer permanent settlement over guest worker schemes.

    But the document says that the actually option that was not preferred made no mention of ‘guest worker schemes’ but rather about:

    > to work for a few years without integrating and putting down roots, then returning home

    So you can’t claim it was about guest-workers at all: as you can’t pull out the ‘then returning home’ as the part that respondents didn’t like – it could equally have been the ‘not integrating’ part.

  4. GhostofJimMorrison

    Migrants must find it difficult to integrate given the policy of mulitcuralism, which would prefer them to retain their old customs and traditions and forge a little part of their native country here in the UK. Good on those who break away from this and assimilate.

  5. Guest

    Yes, why were you allowed to become the citizen?

  6. Guest

    Complete nonsense of course. People can assimilate without requiring society to be like..say, North Korea, one of the few remaining monocultural societies on Earth.

    Your difficulty is not one shared by most people, thankfully, who can manage to fit in just fine with British society without becoming carbon copy clones.

  7. Guest

    No, you can’t be forced to go anywhere with people with black skins, or who don’t speak English natively. You can hide in your ghetto if you want.

    Meanwhile, the world has moved on, and stop demanding the British in general act as you do.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    “(such as a reduction in fees for those who actively volunteer in the community).”

    You’ll create complex schemes to reduce fees. Can’t see it as a good idea at all.

  9. GhostofJimMorrison

    Wolfey what is your obsession with North Korea? Why don’t you go and live there. I’m sure you’d be welcome.

  10. wj

    I haven’t demanded anything Guest/Leon/Newsbot9 – I want nothing from you or the society you wish to build around me.

    And I don’t live in a ghetto – and yes I work with people with black skins.

    As much as you stamp your foot because people don’t play to your rules you must realise that I am comfortable with my people, my culture, and my religion – if you demand that I give them up, you must also demand that all other members of our multi-cultural society give theirs up also.

  11. Thom Brooks

    A few issuss with the facts. Yes, the application fee for citizenship is under £1000. But this neglects the fact most applicants will have had to secure indefinite leave to remain first. This can cost over £1900 if applying in person. And to get to that stage requires at least one – and often two or more – temporary visas.

    It is true there is a citizenship test to take and English language proficiency requirement, but these figure directly in permanent residency applications that come before a citizenship application (which must wait at least 1 year and 1 day from gaining indefinite leave to remain).

    While I agree with several points, a major problem with talking about immigration is too few who are talking about it have actually done it. If they had, then the above points would be obviously relevant – and they could experience a citizenship ceremony themselves. And, yes, I am an immigrant and now UK citizen (and law professor).

  12. Sparky

    Because he was born here?

  13. littleoddsandpieces

    Whether immigrants here for generations and now citizens or native English or Celt born citizens, huge numbers of women born from 1953 and men born from 1951
    will end up with NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE
    and the bulk of the rest on far far less state pension
    than even now being lowest of all rich nations bar poor Mexico.

    The bulk of citizens of all races going to food banks are in work, which will only see an increase to the nearly 1 million referrals to food banks ( source: Trussell Trust) as employment increases, which is only more working poor on low wages below the basic tax allowance.

    The main reason for lack of food is loss of benefit, with 97 per cent of benefits bill needed by the working poor and poor pensioners, who can be the same person.

  14. paulvew

    I think naturalisations not (possibly transient) immigration are the problem.

  15. swat

    We should also have citizenship and fitting in trials and test for the 60m indigenous inhabitants and make it more difficult for them to retain their citizenship.

  16. Guest

    You are the one who is obsessed with monocultural societies like North Korea, do inform everyone of the status of your application to move there.

    Your words, or are you a hypocrite? I’m not the one here who has issues with this country!

  17. Guest

    You make constant demands, LordBlagger – you want nothing to do with British society or to pay tax, I see.

    And you’re a gangmaster and just OWN the Ghetto, right, as you accuse me of your sins – you are comfortable with your far right politics, your culture of hate and your Satanism, I realise this.

    I am not suggesting you be forced to give up anything which does not harm others, while you are trying to destroy the communities and culture of virtually everyone in Britain, since it’s significantly different to yours.

  18. Guest

    What does that have to do with a Hamas-loving site?
    The question won’t stop, sorry, because you’re muddying the waters constantly.

  19. john capper

    And in the same paragraph Phoebe refer’s to IPPR’s research…..But this is the setup of their organisation:-

    and they could be the same think tank or closely allied to British Future…. and just because they say they’re independent doesn’t mean a lot, does it.

  20. wj

    And it’s a strange sort of charity that receives tax payers’ money through the EU.

    Austerity doesn’t seem to reach “Progressive think tanks”.

  21. Michael Worcester

    I attended one of these citizenship ceremonies, the deputy lord mayor of Birmingham was drunk and said that the great thing about Birmingham was getting a curry at any hour. The mostly third world citizens didn’t say the oath just looked blankly. Essentially it was set up by Blair as a PR exercise. The new citizens go through this as they get security and financial benefit. the figures show that migration from the EU (who tend not to become citizens) is beneficial but non-EU migration has cost 190bn so far and is a large reason for the benefit cuts.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    No surprise, you want to define what a charity is depending on how ideologically acceptable they are to you, as you ignore the fact your beloved austerity is a bad idea in the first place.

  23. Guest

    And that’s relevant how? He hasn’t integrated, he should go.

  24. John Manuel

    More migrants are becoming citizens because the Life in the UK Test is way too easy. Make them harder and less will pass. You gotta laugh at these

  25. micheal

    citizenship test questions are not easy as discussed. i read the edition book 5 times and spent 30 days time to take the test. i got 18 and pass the test. i tried some practice tests .i.e
    I have forgotten other online websites which were helped me to pass the test.

  26. Viktoriya Tomova

    I am a migrant but I work hard and really contribute to the UK.

    Plus I got full marks in my test 🙂 I care about the Uk

  27. Viktoriya Tomova

    I agree that the test is to easy and does not correctly identify British values and encourage integration. It just seems like a bad pub quiz –

    What I would like to see is more of a valuation and a greater English standard requirement.

  28. Rosie Field

    In this case I have different opinion. I think that any county should approve the very less chances for the citizenship. However different cultures are merging but somehow your own culture is getting affected. Besides the local citizens are losing the many opportunities which should be only for then like jobs, resources and many more.

  29. Jaume

    I think the process is quite long and it is quite hard to assess whether a person has integrated well into the British society. The test about Life in the UK is a way of testing knowledge about Britain and also of the English language, however some improvements could be made to it. An example of these tests that I found recently is

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