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Tens of thousands more immigrant workers will be forced to learn English before they are allowed into the country, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Date: 2007-09-10

The controversial crackdown, which is expected to reduce the number of people entering Britain by at least 35,000-a-year, will be unveiled by Gordon Brown in a speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton.

The rules will affect those seeking to work and settle permanently in Britain from countries outside the European Union.

Mr Brown's aides said that the initiative, which will be seen as another shift to the Right following the Prime Minister's moves to block supercasinos and to review the decision to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug, will form a "key plank" of the government's new policy on immigration.

The move will present a dilemma to David Cameron, who is trying to reposition the Conservatives as a modern, compassionate party and has shied away from referring to immigration. If he attacks Mr Brown's move, he risks once again angering his "core support" among right-of-centre voters.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said: "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." Under the government's new "points" system, there are three main categories of immigrants coming to Britain from outside the EU to work: highly skilled, skilled and low-skilled workers.

The first two groups can eventually settle permanently in Britain; the third cannot.

Highly skilled migrants have been forced to learn English as a condition of entry since last December.

However, Mr Brown and Ms Smith will announce this week that the condition will be extended to all skilled migrants, who numbered 96,000 last year.

According to government source, about 35,000 of them would not have passed an English-speaking test.

They will be now be expected to speak, write and understand English to standard equivalent to GCSE grade A to C, obtaining proof either by passing an internationally recognised English test or showing they have a university degree from a course taught in English.

Mr Brown and Ms Smith will also announce a review of whether the restrictions should be extended to low-skilled workers, such as fruit pickers, even though they are not allowed to settle permanently in Britain.

There will only be a handful of exemptions to the new rules, likely to include international footballers signed by Premiership clubs, who will be allowed in for "practical reasons", according to government sources.

The new policy builds on a previous speech by Mr Brown in which he stressed his preference for training unemployed and low-skilled Britons to fill the country's skills gap rather than relying on additional migrants.

Ms Smith added: "At present, people who seek to come to the UK permanently, or as highly skilled workers are required to speak English.

"We want to go further and make speaking English a requirement for all those coming in to the UK to do lesser skilled work and we will be looking at extending this requirement to those who come to the UK to do low skilled work as well."

Statistics show that immigrants who speak English competently are far more likely to succeed in the UK labour market than those who do not.

Government estimates suggest the likely earnings of migrant workers who speak English are around 20 per cent higher than those without.

Shortly before becoming Prime Minister in June, Mr Brown told GMB general workers union conference: "It is time to train British workers for the British jobs that will be available over the coming few years and to make sure that people who are inactive and unemployed are able to get the new jobs on offer in our country."

Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor, Sunday Telegraph

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