A non-European moving to the U.K. to marry or join a spouse will soon have to take an English language test before being granted a visa, based on new rules issued last week by the British government.
The Home Office says the test was put in place to help immigrants integrate into society. It’s also meant to help prevent sham marriages that have become increasingly common in the U.K. The test will largely affect U.K.’s Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and is expected to cut visa applications by 10 percent.
Hina Majid, the policy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, is against this new rule and believes it is not in the best interest of migrants and their families. “Forcing husbands and wives to take language tests before they even arrive in the U.K. will rip families apart,” she said. “These new rules are likely to hit people from South Asia and Africa where English is not the main language. It may also hit women harder and discriminate most against the poorest.”
But Clive Bloom, professor Emeritus at Middlesex University in London, thinks the new legislation was inevitable. “The government was required to do something about immigration because immigration has gotten out of hand, or is perceived to have gotten out of hand,” Bloom said in an interview with Need to Know. “Under Labour, 1.5 million people immigrated to Britain and they were arguing that only 37,000 a year should come.”
The test itself requires only a 7-year-old’s level of English to pass. “It is testing the ability of students to interact at a very, very basic level with British citizens; so to be able to go shopping, to be able to buy things, to go to restaurants, to be able to have a conversation with the plumber,” Bloom said.
“Immigration has been a very controversial issue in the U.K. for a long time” Sarah Mulley, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, told Need to Know. “It was a prominent issue in the recent election campaign, so the new government feels under some political pressure to demonstrate that they are going to be tough on the issue.”
Majid doesn’t think that this rule will stand without a fight. “These new rules are likely to be challenged in the courts under the Human Rights Act because they are discriminatory and may prevent families enjoying a life together,” she said.
The Home Office has more plans to tighten U.K. immigration requirements. “This is only the first step,” Home Secretary Theresa May said. “We are currently reviewing English language requirements across the visa system with a view to tighten the rules further in the future.”
Proposed changes include a limit on work visas and an effective system for regulating student visas. Currently, student visa applications have been temporarily suspended in India, Bangladesh and Nepal amid fears they were being used to create sham marriages.
“It is a privilege to come to the UK, and that is why I am committed to raising the bar for migrants and ensuring that those who benefit from being in Britain contribute to society,” May said.
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