Home Office presses ahead with fast-track citizenship

Plan to reward migrants who volunteer 'will be in place by 2011'

A scheme to fast-track citizenship applications from migrants who do voluntary work for charities will be in place by July 2011, the Home Office has pledged.

The Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Act, which was passed in July this year, contains the provision, which is expected to apply only to those who have volunteered with registered charities, rather than with smaller community groups.

The scheme will allow migrants who have been in the UK for five years to gain citizenship within one further year rather than three if they can prove they have been "active citizens" by volunteering.

Jo Liddy, the national lead for citizenship and permanent migration at the UK Border Agency, told Third Sector: "We will continue to look at the implications of active citizenship on all migrants as we move forward to the introduction of the policy in July 2011.

"We accept there are practical issues to address, including the potential impact on voluntary organisations. But we think it is right that those who volunteer receive the benefit offered by active citizenship."

Tom Brake, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who was on the House of Commons public bill committee for the act, said: "The implementation of this act is being rushed. Many of the serious concerns the sector has raised about it, such as the lack of resources to support more volunteers, will not be addressed on this timescale.

"The Government has also failed to address the fundamental flaw in the plan, which is that, in effect, it forces people to volunteer by giving them such a big advantage if they do. This is volunteering under duress."

Kerry Tweed, director of Greater London Volunteering, the umbrella body for volunteer centres in the capital, said expected cuts to funding would make tough conditions for volunteer centres even tougher.

"Volunteer centres are stretched to the limit at the moment, and the situation will become even worse in 2011, when this comes into force," she said.

"By allowing only registered charities to verify that a migrant has volunteered, the Government is cutting out a lot of opportunities for them to get involved in their local communities." 

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