New provisions designed to help strike a better balance between helping faith communities find suitably qualified religious workers while maintaining robust immigration controls were announced today by the Home Office.
Following the conclusion of its consultation with faith communities on immigration provisions for religious workers from abroad, the Government will introduce a new immigration category that allows religious workers in non-pastoral roles to come to the UK to work for up to two years. This will cover workers whose duties include performing religious rites – such as reading the scriptures aloud or tending to the deities – but not preaching to a congregation.
Unlike Ministers of Religion, they will not have to speak English, and will not be eligible to settle in the UK. They will also be prohibited from acting as a Minister of Religion, Missionary or Member of a Religious Order, in order to avoid this new category being used to circumvent existing rules. The Home Office will also introduce a pre-entry qualification for all religious workers, carrying out pastoral and non-pastoral work, as part of the wider implementation of the Points-Based System for managed migration.
A further proposal contained in the consultation – for a post-entry civic knowledge test for Ministers of Religion – will not now be introduced. This reflects the separate introduction of a similar test for those applying for British citizenship introduced in November, and similar proposals for those seeking settlement as set out in the five year strategy for asylum and immigration published in February this year.
Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said:
"The introduction of a new category for non-pastoral religious workers will help faith communities to find suitably-qualified personnel that are not always available in the UK.
"Many faiths require a range of personnel to perform religious rites within their community who do not have a pastoral role. This new category caters for such workers. Ministers of Religion preach to their congregation and therefore are required to speak English, but non-pastoral workers coming to the UK under the new category will not preach, will not be required to speak English, and will not be eligible to stay in the UK for more than two years."
"Meanwhile, the introduction of a pre-entry qualification, which is for all religious workers, will mean that overseas nationals will only be able to come to the UK to perform religious duties if their own religious community recognises that they are qualified to do so."
"We recognise that different faith groups have differing methods for assessing who is qualified to work in their community. Implementation as part of the new Points-Based System will therefore give us time to work with the faith communities to develop the criteria and structures for assessment to ensure a smooth transition to the new system."
"However, we are not proposing to introduce civic knowledge tests specifically for Ministers of Religion so soon after the tests of knowledge of life in the UK have been introduced to the British citizenship requirement, and while we are still working on the new settlement requirements outlined in the five year strategy."
The main provisions of the new immigration category are that the applicant:
Mr McNulty added:
"Both changes I am announcing today recognise the needs of the faith communities and their concerns about ensuring that overseas nationals have the skills needed to practise their ministry in the UK’s diverse society."
"They also balance the aims of community cohesion and a robust and effective immigration control. We will continue to work with the faith communities on these issues."
Following the first stage of consultation, the Government introduced an English language requirement for all those applying for leave as a Minister of Religion on or after 23 August 2004. Currently applicants must demonstrate that they have a basic command of English; from August 2006 they will have to demonstrate that they are a competent user of English.
The measures announced today form part of the Government’s ongoing strategy to ensure the UK’s immigration system is firm but fair, allowing those individuals who can contribute to UK society to come here while ensuring there are robust systems in place to tackle abuse.