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English Language Tests To Be Introduced Under Points Based System | Immigration Matters

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The new points based system will take effect during the first quarter of 2008.

The 5 tier system, replacing the 80 current migration schemes, will “manage the flow of individuals wishing to come to or remain in the United Kingdom to work, train or study”, and will be phased in over the next couple of years.

Tier 1, will deal with highly skilled migrants, and mirrors the existing Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), which will be the first to come on line during first quarter of 2008.

The Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) has introduced a new English language competence requirement to enter the UK:

“One of the requirements of the points based system will be that, in most cases, migrants coming here to undertake skilled or highly skilled work must provide evidence to demonstrate that they have an acceptable standard of English. One way in which applicants can demonstrate this will be by providing evidence that they have passed an English language test.

“Only tests that have been assessed as meeting the Border and Immigration Agency’s requirements will be accepted as evidence that the applicant meets this requirement.”

The BIA will publish a list of these tests, so migrants will know whether the test they propose to take will be acceptable to us, and are inviting organisations that award English language tests to apply for their tests to be assessed according to the required standards.

Migrants will be assessed against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, or CEFR (see below).

The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions which can be divided into six levels:

A Basic User
A1 Breakthrough
A2 Waystage
B Independent User
B1 Threshold
B2 Vantage
C Proficient User
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency
C2 Mastery

Tier 1 migrants will be expected to reach the C1 level, which describes a person who:

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

Tier 2 migrants will need to prove competency at B2 level, which is someone who:

Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

The move was previously reported by Immigration Matters in September at which time Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, told BBC One’s Sunday AM:

“One of the ways in which I think we can make sure that people integrate more quickly… is by expecting people who are coming here through the skilled – and slightly less-skilled route – to actually be able to speak English.”

She added: “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.”

But the British Chamber of Commerce said it was concerned the measure would put workers off coming to the UK.

Director General, David Frost, said: “In recent years, migrant workers to the UK have ensured the continued growth of the economy, possessing a work ethic and skill level that many young British people just do not have.

“Of course language skills are important, but I would be concerned if this meant that those who want to work and help our economy grow are kept out of the country and take their skills and talent elsewhere.”

My own experience in helping thousands of working migrants come to the UK from outside the EU, is that the vast majority speak and understand English perfectly well, otherwise the employers would not be employing them.

Tara Mukherjee, president of the Confederation of Indian Organisations, said it would mean that people from English-speaking countries, which are predominantly white, would have no difficulty in passing the tests, while those from non-English speaking countries, which are predominantly non-white, will be disadvantaged.

Rhian Beynon, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, also criticised the new language test requirements: “It already seems bizarre and discriminatory to non-Europeans, particularly to those from countries where English is spoken, that they should meet an English language requirement to enter, work and settle here while nationals of countries such as Poland and Italy do not.”

She said that many non-Europeans from the “global south” interpreted English language testing as another hurdle to their legal migration to the UK, on top of increasing fees, compulsion to provide biometric data, TB testing and the closure of routes for unskilled migrants.

Ironically, these measures will do nothing to improve the standard of English of the very migrants who do not, in general, speak the language so well – i.e. EU migrants from Eastern Europe. Britain has no powers to impose an English test on EU citizens, who account for the vast majority of migrants entering the UK.

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