Migrants should be forced to take compulsory English classes to tackle a “lack of integration” which has “alarmed many”, according to a cross-party group of MPs.
A report published today warned that immigrant communities often live “parallel rather than interconnected lives” and the issue had been “swept under the carpet”.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, chaired by Labour’s Chuka Umunna, proposed a range of measures to tackle division, including mandatory English classes and the creation of local action plans.
The group also called for a regional immigration system similar to that operating in Canada, where different areas can chose the level of migration it wants.
However, this plan was described as “totally unmanageable” by one migration reform campaigner, who claimed it would lead to “chaos.”
The report was also attacked by Ukip for missing the “elephant in the room” as it did not call for a reduction in the numbers of people coming to the UK – with net migration currently at 335,000 a year.
Speaking ahead of the report’s official launch in London later this morning, Umunna 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.
“We now need a meaningful integration programme which works for all parts of the UK and an immigration policy which allows all to celebrate and look beyond our differences - a middle way between the laissez-faire multiculturalism favoured by successive British governments and the assimilationist politics of the French Burkini ban.”
The report was produced after five months of evidence gathering, and involved hearing testimony from the Australian High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer and other migration experts.
The group, which includes Conservative MP James Berry and Labour peer Lord Glasman, also visited residents in Boston, Lincolnshire – the area of the country with the highest Leave vote in last year’s EU referendum.
In the introduction to the document, Umunna argued the pace of immigration into the UK since the early 2000s “has led some people to feel a sense of bewilderment and estrangement from their communities.”
He went on: “Very few of the individuals we have met during visits to Boston in Lincolnshire and Halifax in Yorkshire were hostile to immigration.
“Indeed, most shared the view that it has been fantastic for our economy and for the cultural life of our country.
“It is clear, however, that demographic and cultural change has threatened people’s sense of security, identity, and belonging within their communities and—in some instances—put pressure on local public services.”
Alongside calls for the Government to develop a “comprehensive and proactive national strategy the integration of immigrants”, the report focused on making sure all migrants could speak English.
It reads: “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 classes upon arrival…speaking English is the key to full participation in our society and economy, and is a prerequisite for meaningful engagement with most British people.”
Sunder Katwala, Director of independent think-tank British Future, welcomed the report’s suggestion, and said: “This should increase the pressure on the Government for concrete action to make integration work.
“Dame Louise Casey’s recent integration review found that speaking English is the single most important factor for integration but that current provision is patchy at best.
“By next month, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid must give an official response to the Casey report. This will be the year we learn whether the Government’s commitment to better integration goes beyond mere rhetoric and delivers on a practical plan.”
The report urged the Government to abandon its “one size fits all approach to immigration policy” and investigate a Canadian-style regional approach.
In the North American country, each of the ten provincial governments can set specific requirements for immigrants in order to address any gaps in the local economy.
The APPG argued such a policy could help areas of the UK such as Scotland, which is currently dealing with an aging and declining population.
However, Alp Mehmet, Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK, was scathing in his criticism of the plan, and said: “If I had to come up with a system to make immigration control more complex and even more difficult than it is, as well as boost the inflow of migrants, this would fit the bill perfectly.
“Such a system would be totally unmanageable and lead to chaos.
“By all means, help migrants to integrate but not by regionalising immigration policy, which is much more likely to have the opposite effect.”
A Ukip spokesman said the report was “inching” in the right direction, but still failed to address many key issues.
He said: “There’s an elephant in the room which Chuka Umunna couldn’t see if it was on the end of his well manicured finger nails, and that is that when you have net migration running at an average of 330,000 a year it doesn’t matter how much you try and tinker with integration strategies – the numbers are just too high.”
Last summer, Umunna admitted to Huff Post UK that it was more important for the UK to end freedom of movement than remain in the EU Single Market when it came to Brexit negotiations.