Brown to extend language tests for immigrants

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown will tighten immigration rules for thousands of foreigners seeking work in Britain, his Downing Street office confirmed on Sunday.

All skilled workers from outside the European Union will have to show they can speak English in a move that could block around 35,000 people coming to Britain.

The move, to be announced by Brown in a speech to the Trade Unions Congress on Monday, was dismissed by the opposition Conservatives as “tough talk” that would have little effect on levels of immigration.

Business leaders said they were concerned the new regulations would be bad for the economy.

The Sunday Telegraph said the announcement would be seen as a further shift to the right by Brown after moves to block supercasinos and a review of the decision to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug.

Under immigration rules affecting workers from outside the European Union, applicants are split into Highly Skilled, Skilled and Non-Skilled.

Only the first two categories can apply to settle permanently in Britain.

Highly skilled workers already have to show they are proficient in English. Monday’s announcement will extend that requirement to the skilled category.

Around 96,000 workers in the skilled category entered Britain last year and around 35,000 would have failed the English test, a government source told the Sunday Telegraph.

Home Secretary Jaqui Smith told the paper: “Those who we welcome into the UK to work and settle here need to understand our traditions and feel that they are part of our shared national culture.

“They need to integrate into our country, learn English and use our language.”

Brown will also announce a review of whether to extend the language requirement to unskilled workers as well.

David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said he was concerned at the move.

“In recent years migrant workers to the UK have ensured the continued growth of the economy, possessing a work ethic and skill level that many young British people just do not have.

“Of course language skills are important but I would be concerned if this meant that those who want to work and help our economy grow are kept out of the country and take their skills and talent elsewhere.”