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ESOL-RESEARCH  September 2007

ESOL-RESEARCH September 2007

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Subject:

Re: Language tests for potential migrants

From:

"Hann, Naeema" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Hann, Naeema

Date:

Wed, 12 Sep 2007 08:53:49 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Bravo! James, keep weighing in! A clear case put forward convincingly.
Your point about how this policy will discriminate against women is very
true and powerful. Hope people in the Home Office subscribe to this
list. It would be great to see another article in the Guardian. 

Naeema 

-----Original Message-----
From: ESOL-Research discussion forum
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of James Simpson
Sent: 11 September 2007 15:37
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Language tests for potential migrants

Hello all 

I feel it's time I weighed in with a few comments about the recent
pronouncements of G. Brown, J. Smith et al on language and migration. 

The latest proposal from the government, reported last Sunday,  is that
people in the 'skilled' category, and possibly other categories, of
migrants from outside the EU should demonstrate they can speak, read and
write English before given permission to work in the UK. The BBC report
on this is at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6985661.stm 

The current rules on an English language requirement for migration apply
to those wanting to come to the UK through the 'highly skilled migrant'
programme. The set level is high: IELTS level 6 or its TOEFL equivalent,
or proof of having studied for a Bachelors degree which was taught in
English. (Home Office guidelines for the Highly Skilled Migrant
programme, Annex E:
http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/6353/11406/49552/hsmp1guidance). IELTS
level 6 is as high as that required for entrance to many UK university
courses. 

Extending this language requirement to other categories is a policy that
is dressed up in the clothes of integration and cohesion. The Home
Secretary Jacqui Smith said: '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.' But is clearly a policy
which uses language as a gatekeeper, an anti-immigration tool. This was
picked up by the Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green, reported in
the BBC article as saying: 'This will be a relatively minor measure
unless it leads to a cut in the numbers of people coming here.' My own
main concern is that the language requirement for migration will be
extended to all non-EU migrants, a possibility suggested by Darra Singh
at the launch of 'Our Shared Future', the report of the commission on
integration and cohesion. 

I think a number of things are very badly wrong with insisting that
people demonstrate an ability to speak a language before they come to a
country. Firstly such a policy is a rather blatant form of linguicism,
that is, discrimination against people on grounds of the language, or
variety of language, they speak or don't speak. It is no longer
acceptable to discriminate against people on grounds of colour or
ethnicity, but there is still far less of a cultural and social taboo
attached to language use. A policy which requires people to demonstrate
language ability before they enter a country inevitably excludes people
according to their language ability. In the current UK context, this is
being done in the name of cohesion and integration, which I find
somewhat spurious. A far more obvious explanation is that the government
wants to keep as many non-EU people out of the UK as possible. 

Also, the language requirement can only be satisfied by people taking a
test in English before they arrive. This clearly means that only those
with access to high quality English language classes in their own
country - classes leading to an IELTS test - will be eligible to apply
for entry to the UK. Such a policy discriminates against people without
access to English language provision. These are more likely to be poorer
people, people from less developed countries, and people from rural
areas. If our previous research is anything to go by, it will also mean
that women are more likely to be excluded, as they have fewer
educational opportunities than men (Baynham, Roberts, et al, 2007
Effective teaching and learning ESOL. NRDC. (especially Ch 4)
http://www.nrdc.org.uk/publications_details.asp?ID=89)

It is always interesting to compare what is happening in the UK with the
situation in other countries. New Zealand is another English-dominant
country whose potential migrants face significant language-related
barriers. Although New Zealand actively encourages migration, English
language requirements are stringent. Since a policy review in 2002,
principal applicants have to meet a minimum standard of English before
they arrive, which for some groups is 6.5 on the IELTS scale. Some
categories of migrant with lower levels of English may 'pre-pay' for
ESOL classes, which they are expected to attend upon arrival. The strict
English language requirement makes it particularly difficult for
non-English speakers to migrate to the country, and since 2002 there has
been a downturn in successful applications from countries such as China,
Taiwan and Korea. The New Zealand historian Ann Beaglehole says of the
2002 policy changes, 'New Zealand's immigration regulations remained
blind to race or nationality. But there was some evidence that the focus
on skills and the high level of English language requirements were
leading to a reduction in the number of immigrants from Asia.'
(Beaglehole, A. (2007). 'Immigration regulation.' Te Ara - the
Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/NewZealanders/NewZealandPeoples/ImmigrationRegu
lation/en)

A couple of other minor points about this policy: 
The BBC report has it that 'Skilled workers will now be expected to
understand English to a standard equal to GCSE grade A to C, it is
understood.' This means IELTS 6.5, which is Level 2 on the NQF. It is
also above the level which many universities require of their
international students. 

Also according to the BBC, exemptions to this policy will include
international footballers signed by Premiership clubs. So that's alright
then.

Finally, the spread and growth of English throughout the world will
probably render this policy, and others like it, redundant in a few
years' time. Knowledge of English is becoming the norm globally. In many
countries English is part of basic education, and David Graddol (in
English Next, 2006
http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-englishnext.htm)
predicts that it will become a 'near-universal basic skill'. The problem
then will be for people who speak no language other than English (i.e.
most English people). Graddol again (2006:14): 'Monolingual English
speakers face a bleak economic future, and the barriers preventing them
from learning other languages are rising rapidly.'

What has not been mentioned in the reporting of this policy is the
importance of ESOL. If the government is serious about cohesion and
integration, it should be bending over backwards to provide high quality
and freely available English lessons for people when they arrive in the
UK. Instead, in complete contradiction to government policies on
integration, and inconsistent with its badgering of migrants to learn
English, it has cut funding for ESOL and made it increasingly difficult
for new arrivals and more established residents alike to find an ESOL
class. 

Cheers
James

----------------
Dr James Simpson
School of Education 
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT
UK
[log in to unmask]
http://www.education.leeds.ac.uk/people/staff.php?staff=39
+44 (0)113 343 4687

Join the ESOL-Research discussion list: 
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interest in research into teaching and learning ESOL. ESOL-Research is
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ESOL-Research is a forum for researchers and practitioners with an interest in research into teaching and learning ESOL. ESOL-Research is managed by James Simpson at the Centre for Language Education Research, School of Education, University of Leeds.
To join or leave ESOL-Research, visit
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