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A High Court in the UK recently ruled to uphold English language tests for immigrants wanting to live in the UK. The outrage from some couples caught up in this affair is understandable, but is it too much to ask immigrants to speak the language of their destination country?
The rules surrounding immigration have always been a tricky area to approach, especially in the United Kingdom where, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics in November 2011, 7,238,000 people of the 54,220,000 estimated population resident in the UK were born outside of the UK. In today’s mobile world, however, these figures should not be alarming.
Of the 13.3% of the UK population born overseas, 9.6%, the largest group, hail from India, followed relatively closely by Poland with 7.6% and Pakistan with 6.0%.
The constant squeeze on public sector services and the ominous economic climate means that the UK is constantly thinking hard as to how immigration figures can be kept to a manageable level. At a time when developed modes of transport make it easier than ever to travel and relocate this can seem an unattainable task, but what is more practical is for countries to introduce measures that encourage and promote immigrants to integrate into the society of their destination country and to protect public services.
This is exactly what the UK’s English tests for immigrant spouses are designed to do. These measures have come under scrutiny from couples whose spouses still live in their overseas country of birth and do not have the skills or funding to be able to reach a level of English that would assist in their integration into British society. This also means that many married couples have to live millions of miles apart and put unavoidable strains on their right to family life.
According to BBC News, in mid-2011 the High Court in Birmingham was told that “the tougher language tests were racist and discriminated against British-Indian families”. However, referring back to the ONS figures, if the percentage of the UK population born overseas is compared to the percentage of the population of overseas nationals the figure decreases from 13.3% to 8.0%.
Of this 8.0% the highest number of overseas nationals comes from Poland (12.7%) and Indians (7.3%) drop from first place in the running for the largest group of overseas-born UK residents to third place in the running for the largest group of overseas nationals resident in the UK.
In order to become British citizens applicants need to pass various tests that do not just focus on the language of the UK, but also its history, culture and economy. This means that British-Indians have made significant efforts to integrate into British society. Furthermore, tightening regulations to enforce English language tests is not as drastic a measure as may be initially deemed.
The EF EPI (English Proficiency Index) 2011 found that almost 50% of the 44 countries monitored had a moderate EPI score (50+), and of the countries that have the highest number of migrants in the UK, almost half of the top ten are considered to have high levels of English proficiency.
In light of this most would consider that maintaining the no language, no entry rule is strict, but hopefully not unfair.
Taylor Wessing LLP
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