British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a series of wide-ranging reforms aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration and visa fraud in order to "reclaim our borders and send illegal immigrants home."
Speaking at the London-based Institute for Government, Cameron said on October 10 that in the future, immigrants applying for visas to live in Britain must show that they can speak English, and must also prove they have the financial resources to support themselves while in the country.
In some of his strongest rhetoric yet on the spiralling problem of illegal immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, Cameron also urged Britons to report suspected illegal immigrants to the authorities so they can be deported.
Cameron further said that in the future, all immigrants applying for a British passport would be required to pass a British history exam first.
Migrants wanting to settle in Britain permanently have been required to take a Citizenship Test since 2005. But that test, a multiple-choice quiz called Life in the UK, was reduced to a laughing stock when the previous Labour government ruled that immigrants should not be required to learn British history because there was too much of it and "it would not be fair."
Instead, applicants were asked questions about equal rights, discrimination and on how to claim social welfare benefits from the British state.
Cameron said: "We're also going to change the citizenship test. There's a whole chapter in the citizenship handbook on British history but, incredibly, there is no question on British history in the actual test. Instead you'll find questions on the roles and powers of the main institutions of Europe and the benefits system within the UK. So we are going to revise the whole test … and put British history and culture at the heart of it."
Aside from proposing tighter immigration laws, Cameron also vowed to crack down on forced and bogus marriages, methods many Muslim immigrants use to illegally settle family members in Britain.
Cameron said he would work to make it a criminal offense in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to force a person to marry against his or her will. He described the practice of forced marriage as "little more than slavery."
The move to make forced marriage illegal is a sign that Cameron is acting on his February 2011 promise to reverse Britain's long-standing policy of multiculturalism.
"To force someone into marriage is completely wrong and I strongly believe this is a problem we should not shy away from addressing because of some cultural concerns," Cameron said.
The government also plans to tackle the problem of sham marriages by increasing the "probationary period" from two years to five before a non-EU resident who marries an EU citizen gains the right to settle in Britain permanently.
"If we take the steps set out today and deal with all the different avenues of migration, legal and illegal, then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the 1980s and 1990s ... a time when immigration was not a front rank political issue," Cameron said.
Cameron said he would propose a certain minimum income for new arrivals to prevent immigrants from becoming a burden on British taxpayers.
"Of course, in the modern world, where people travel and communicate more easily than ever before and where families have connections all across the globe, people do want to move to different countries to be with loved ones," Cameron conceded.
"We all understand this human instinct. But we need to make sure -- for their sake as well as ours -- that those who come through this route are genuinely coming for family reasons, that they can speak English, and that they have the resources they need to live here and make a contribution here -- not just to scrape by, or worse, to subsist on [welfare] benefit," Cameron said.
He added: "We will make migrants wait longer, to show they really are in a genuine relationship before they can get settlement. And we'll also impose stricter and clearer tests on the genuineness of a relationship, including the ability to speak the same language and to know each other's circumstances. We will also end the ridiculous situation where a registrar who knows a marriage is a sham still has to perform the ceremony."
Upon taking office in May 2010, Cameron's coalition government pledged to reduce net migration from around 200,000 to the "tens of thousands" by 2015. In an effort to bring the immigration numbers down, the government in November 2010 announced a cap of 21,700 skilled workers from outside the European Union who are allowed to work in Britain.
One-and-a-half years later, the British government has been unable to reduce immigration in any meaningful way. In fact, immigration is still on the rise.
The number of foreigners coming to Britain surged by a massive 21 percent during 2010, according to data released in August 2011 by Britain's Office for National Statistics.
Official figures show that a total of 575,000 people moved to Britain in 2010, the equivalent of one every minute. A legacy of the British Labour Party's open-door policy, this was the second-highest annual figure since 1991.
The Office for National Statistics also said that the number of people granted settlement -- the first step to full citizenship -- in Britain also reached a record 241,000 in 2010. A total of 195,000 were granted British citizenship, down from the record high of 204,000 in 2009, but more than double the level of a decade ago.
The number of people applying for asylum also fell last year but has started to rise again, with 4,800 applications between April and June, mainly from Pakistan and Libya.
The figures come as a London-based think tank called MigrationWatch published a study showing that nearly two-thirds of asylum seekers between 1997 and 2010 turned out to be bogus, but Britain ended up with a £10 billion ($16 billion) bill anyway.
The study concludes by saying that Britain's asylum system has been costing taxpayers on average more than £2 million ($3.1 million) a day since 1999 and, once anyone has set foot on British soil, they have a 77% chance of staying, whatever the merits of their case.
In 2010, family migration accounted for almost one-fifth of total non-EU immigration to Britain, with nearly 50,000 visas granted to family members of British citizens and those with permanent residence in the country.
Cameron said that around 70% of those seeking to move family into Britain from abroad had post-tax earnings of less than £20,000 ($31,600) a year, which creates the "risk that the migrants and their family will become a significant burden on the welfare system and the taxpayer." The minimum level of financial support may be raised to £25,000 or £30,000 a year.
The government is now looking at ways to make it harder for poorer migrants to enter Britain. This includes a proposal to make migrants pay a financial "bond" before they are allowed to enter the country. Cameron says this will help to stop migrants from disappearing into the black economy.
In a related move, Cameron also promised to crack down on health tourists who run up huge bills with the British National Health Service and then leave the country without paying. Health tourists who have failed to pay debts of £1,000 or more for non-emergency treatment will be banned from entering or staying in Britain.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.