British government proposals to extend legislation requiring applicants for British citizenship and permanent residence in the UK to take an English language test will not work, says the Guardian.
The new requirements include an advanced language tests for citizenship and settlement applicants, and new language tests for some who have not yet left their home country. Phil Woolas, Minister for Borders and Immigration, argues that the extended legislation will support integration and community cohesion. Mr Woolas said in August that Immigrants must ‘earn’ citizenship.
The government believes that migrants should learn English because they are more likely to gain access to employment and services, and are therefore more likely to contribute to society. Most people agree that UK residents and citizens should be able to speak English.
However, the assumption that the best means of ensuring migrants learn English is to make them take a test, is false, according to Adrian Blackledge writing for the Guardian. “There is little or no evidence that testing English language learners enhances their ability to learn English”, he said.
The British government has recently introduced a raft of legislation to test the English language proficiency of applicants for citizenship or permanent settlement in the UK.
In 2005 a computer-based test of language and “Life in the UK” was introduced for would-be citizens, and in 2007 the test was extended to include applicants for permanent settlement. In 2009 new legislation introduced reform of the immigration system through a framework of “earned citizenship” modelled on the Australian points-based system, with an English language test as a means of determining who may proceed to citizenship.
New government proposals, set out in August 2009, are for an expanded language testing regime in which applicants will be tested twice before being granted citizenship or permanent settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain).
The first test, at the “probationary citizenship” stage, will be at the level of the current language test, while the second, at the “British citizenship” stage, will be at an undefined “higher standard of English”.
In addition, the government has announced its intention to introduce in 2011 a pre-entry English language test for people coming to the UK to join their British husbands and wives. Despite the government’s own acknowledgement that a previous consultation on this proposal received a “mixed response” (more than two-thirds of respondents opposed it), for the first time English language testing will be conducted in the country of origin.
Mr Blackledge argues that the testing system is neither encouraging nor supportive, but is a ‘gatekeeping’ device that is punitive and coercive.
The UK is a multicultural, where more than 300 languages are spoken daily. English as a second language provision is under-resourced in the UK. At the same time as requiring that migrants demonstrate their English proficiency, government has cut funding for English classes. Instead of investing resources in the expansion of the language testing regime, government can advance integration by providing more extensive, freely available English classes, which are resourced with childcare facilities, tailored to the needs of local communities, and taught by fully trained tutors. Language tests deter immigrants rather than welcoming them, and do nothing to ensure integration and community cohesion.
The consultation period for responses to the extension to citizenship legislation (‘Earning the Right to Stay. A New Points Test for Citizenship’) closed on 26 October
Source: Adrian Blackledge, The Guardian
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