Britain Toughens Regimes for Foreigners Seeking to Become U.K. Citizens

Foreigners who live and work in Britain will have to wait longer, pay more and even carry out charity work if they want to become citizens under new laws proposed Wednesday.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said those who want citizenship, which allows them to live and work without a visa and gives them a vote, must prove their allegiance to Britain.

Foreigners must already pass a test on British life; speak English, Welsh or Gaelic; and live in Britain for five years before they can apply for citizenship.

Under the proposed new laws, applicants could wait as long as eight years to apply for citizenship. Applicants who are willing to do volunteer work could apply after six years.

Smith said foreigners could prove their desire to become a Briton by coaching a local soccer club, helping a charity group or assisting with British aid work overseas.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said carrying out community work would help migrants bond with their neighbors.

"The surest foundation upon which we can advance socially, culturally and economically in this century is to be far more explicit about the ties — indeed the shared values — that make us more than a collection of people but a country," Brown said in a speech in Camden, north London.

Brown said newcomers to Britain should, in most cases, be able to speak English.

"This is not jingoism, but practical, rational and purposeful — and therefore, I would argue, an essentially British form of patriotism," he said of the proposals.

But Smith also warned that Britain is likely to clamp down on visas for foreigners who spend years in Britain but choose not to become citizens.

"You will not be able to languish in limbo. Once your period of temporary residence comes to an end you will need to apply for the next stage or leave," Smith told reporters.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said Americans, Australians and Filipinos are the nationals most reluctant to take up British citizenship.

"I don't think it is a good thing to have people who are permanently living here but have not taken that step toward permanent citizenship," Smith told reporters.

Brown said laws governing marriage visas also are being tightened to help prevent young women — particularly from Pakistan and India — from traveling to Britain for forced marriages.

He said the age limit to bring a spouse to Britain is being raised from 18 to 21. Officials will conduct longer interviews with applicants and both parties will need some skills in English, Brown said.

The fee paid to become a British citizen will be increased from a current charge of 655 pounds (US$1,278; euro870), the Home Office said. Officials have not yet decided what the new charge will be.

"We aim to raise tens of millions of pounds" from the increase, a spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Smith said her proposals, which are likely to be voted on later in the year, would seek to ban foreigners who have served a jail sentence overseas from becoming British citizens.

The changes will only apply to people arriving in Britain after the new laws are passed, Smith said, and not to foreigners already living in Britain. If passed, the proposals are unlikely to come into force before 2010.