Speaking English 'the key to full participation in society'

Immigrants should be expected to learn English before coming to Britain - or be enrolled on compulsory language classes when they arrive, according to a parliamentary report.

MPs and peers also called on ministers to consider a radical overhaul which could see regions handed immigration powers in place of the current "one size fits all" system.

They are the headline proposals in a sweeping report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on social integration to be launched on Thursday.

It follows a landmark review which last month warned the country is becoming more divided as it becomes more diverse.

That inquiry from Dame Louise Casey called for more English classes for isolated groups and suggested ministers should consider whether immigrants intending to settle in Britain should swear an "integration oath" on arrival.

In its report the APPG said that integration should begin upon arrival in the UK and described speaking English as "the key to full participation in our society and economy" and a "prerequisite for meaningful engagement with most British people".

The study said: "The APPG believes that all immigrants should be expected to have either learned English before coming to the UK or be enrolled in compulsory Esol (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes upon arrival."

The Government was urged to reassess the current "one size fits all" approach to immigration policy and consider reforming the system to more actively shape immigrant settlement patterns within the UK.

"Through the introduction of policies aimed at directing population flows to areas of the country which require higher levels of immigration or do not currently attract a great many immigrants, policymakers might minimise strain on public services and on community relations whilst bolstering regional economies," the report said.

It suggested that a devolved or regionally-led system could draw on the model used in Canada, where provincial governments can set region-specific requirements for immigrants.

The paper raised the prospect of region-specific visas with quotas for their dissemination agreed by devolved administrations or city regions.

The APPG also called for:

::A new national Government strategy for the integration of immigrants including issues such as access to the labour market and awareness of the UK's laws, traditions and culture;

::Councils to set up local integration action plans and the immediate introduction of an Integration Impact Fund;

::The Home Office to investigate whether new immigrants could be placed on pathways to citizenship automatically upon arrival.

Net migration to the UK has been running at or close to record levels of around a third of a million - well above the Government's target of below 100,000.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, chair of the APPG, said a "meaningful" integration programme was needed.

He said: "It's clear that immigration has impacted on different communities in different ways and the pace of change has alarmed many.

"The Government has a duty to address the lack of integration of immigrants if it is to address this. Failing to do so has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate to exploit."

Jon Yates, of social integration charity The Challenge, called on the Government to consider the recommendations in the report, adding: "It is no longer enough to focus solely on the numbers of immigrants arriving in the UK, while ignoring what happens to them and their host communities after arrival."

A Government spokesman said: "Our country has long been home to lots of different cultures and communities, but all of us have to be part of one society -- British society.

"That is why we are rolling out a £20 million fund for English language provision and have also made £140 million available through the Controlling Migration Fund to local authorities to manage impacts on communities caused by issues such as poor English language skills.

"However, we must also recognise that uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion and puts pressure on public services.

"Our priority is to build an immigration system that works for everyone in the UK and delivers the control we need."

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