Home Office plans to introduce an "earned citizenship" system for immigrants from outside the European Union who want to become British have been attacked as potentially descriminatory and degrading by campaigners.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave strong backing to the new approach in a speech on the "rights and responsibilities" of British citizenship, which he likened to a premium product.
Under current rules, migrants are first eligible for a passport five years after they arrive in the country. Under the new proposals, they will have to serve a further probationary period of one to three years.
Immigrants who wish to settle will also face more tests to prove their "worth". They will have to undertake community work, run a sports team or play group, or serve as a school governor.
Critics point out that this is a higher test of citizen loyalty than any in the indigenous population face. It also seems to be based on a suspicion towards migrants fuelled by the tabloid newspapers and anti-immigration lobbying by groups like Migration Watch, they say.
Don Flynn of Migrants Rights International (MRI), the independent global monitoring body focusing on human rights, said on BBC2 TV's flagship 'Newsnight' programnme yesterday that creating an effective second class of citizens was a matter “of great concern”.
Research shows that “migrants pay 10 per cent more in tax than they take out in services,” he declared.
Habib Rahman, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), predicted that ethnic minority groups would be hostile to the proposals.
Churches and politicias are also starting to express concern, noting that those impacted by the new proposals will mainly be black people from outside Europe, since the Home Office does not intend to include personas moving within the EU.
Habib Rahman told The Independent newspaper: "[People] will be particularly upset and they will feel they are treated like second-class people ... It might take 10 years to become a citizen, which is a quarter of your working life."
Marsha Singh, the MP for Bradford West, warning that the proposals would create "great resentment" in his constituency. "I am very concerned these proposals might damage our good relations," he said
Simon Milton of the Local Government Association admitted that both industry and rural life was dependent on the contribution of migrant workers. He said that there are problems of settlement in some areas, but he distinguished between issues involving short-term workers and long-term ones for whom citizenship is an option.
Campaigners point out that in spite of scaremongering by sections of the media and some politicians, and the fact that immigration is consistently high in voter perceptions of major isuues, four out of five people do not iidentify migrants as a 'problem' issue locally.
Migrants Rights International (MRI), which is a non-governmental association in special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, says that "the greatest challenge that many societies face around the world, is the relentless and implacable rise of violence against migrants."
Migration is a global issue that needs global solutions, not panic and closed borders, humanitarian agencies say.
In Britain, concern has been stoked by lack of funding for local authorities and voluntary initiatives responding to the needs of workers moving around the EU in response to more open borders and markets.