Foreigners Granted Citizenship At Record High

(Telegraph) – THE NUMBER OF FOREIGNERS being handed a British passport has hit record levels fuelling claims of an open door on immigration.

A total of 203,865 people were granted British citizenship last year – the equivalent of one every three minutes and a 58 per cent jump on the previous year.

Almost another 200,000 migrants were granted settlement after a 30 per cent rise meaning they can stay indefinitely but are not British citizens.

The sharp rise in citizenship will in part have been due to migrants rushing applications in ahead of new rules next year that will make it harder and longer to earn a British passport.

But it will also be seen as a result of Labour’s relaxed immigration policies over the last decade just two weeks after the Government was accused of pursuing a secret policy of encouraging mass immigration for its own political ends.

The release of a previously unseen document suggested that Labour’s migration policy over the past decade had been aimed not just at meeting the country’s economic needs, but also the Government’s “social objectives”.

It is the first time annual grants of citizenship have past the 200,000 mark and it dwarfs the previous high of 164,635 in 2007.

It is also more than five times the 37,010 approvals in 1997 when Labour took power and means more than 1.5 million foreigners have been handed a British passport in the intervening period.

In 2008, Jacqui Smith, the then Home Secretary, said those who settle here should apply for citizenship rather than ‘languish in limbo’ by living here but not adapting to the British way of life.

Next summer a new regime of “probationary citizenship” comes in to effect which means migrants may have to be in the country for up to eight years before being granted a passport, instead of the current five years. They will also have to accrue points under the new system by demonstrating they are of benefit or active in the community or have skills it needs.

Of the separate grants of settlement, those linked to jobs rose from 37,000 in 2007 to more than 60,000 in 2008 and 81,000 last year – despite the recession.

The quarterly immigration figures published by the Office for National Statistics, also showed a 30 per cent increase in student visa numbers last year compared to 2008.

In the final three months of 2009, 61,715 student visas were issued – an astonishing rise of 92 per cent on the same period in 2008 – while throughout the year a record 273,610 student visas were issued.

The figures will renew questions over the regime, which critics claim is being abused by illegal immigrants, criminals and potential terrorists.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “These are the last immigration figures before a General Election and it is now clear that immigration has been running out of control throughout the lifetime of this Government.

“Even in a recession with more than two million unemployed the number of work visas issued is going up. So much for British jobs for British workers.”

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Public confidence and trust in the migration system has been shattered by decades of mismanagement.”

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, said: “Asylum applications for the last three months of 2009 were the lowest since the early 1990s.

“Net migration is down, and the new UK Border Agency is increasingly successful.”

“Our border has never been stronger, as shown by the fall in the number of asylum applications.

“Our new flexible points-based system also gives us greater control over those coming to work or study from outside Europe, ensuring that only those that Britain need can come.”