Protests at pre-entry English tests for spouses coming to UK
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Friday June 20, 2008
Government plans to insist that spouses should have to learn English before they are allowed into Britain to join their husbands or wives have run into a barrage of opposition and warnings that the idea could breach human rights laws.
The responses to an official consultation on the proposal published yesterday run more than two to one against, with many warning it could break up marriages because many cannot afford or access English lessons. The anonymised responses were 68 to 31 against the pre-entry English test for spouses.
Immigration lawyers have told ministers that spouses and fiancees should not be barred from joining a partner in the UK for language reasons and that the plan could breach the human rights convention's guarantees to the right to marry and have a family life.
Other immigration organisations said the measure would discriminate against those from rural areas in south Asia, where the opportunities to learn English are limited. Others argued that as EU citizens could settle in Britain without a language test it was clearly not a prerequisite for coping with life in Britain and therefore was more symbolic than practical.
One common theme of the responses was that English was best learned in the UK where classes were available and the spouse was immersed in the British way of life.
Those who backed the proposal said that the failure to speak English created communication problems and prevented integration. One local government organisation said a knowledge of English would mean that women from south Asia, Somalia and the Yemen would be less “tied to the home” and give them a chance of finding a job.
The results were published as the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, unveiled the latest immigration enforcement campaign, under which employers who take on illegal migrants are named and shamed on government websites. Smith said a network of 7,500 enforcement officers in 70 to 80 local immigration teams is be introduced over the next three years.
“The first step in this major organisational change will be to map immigration 'hotspots' to enable us to take intelligent decisions about the location, make-up and staffing of the local immigration teams,” said the UK borders agency's strategy document. “We plan to complete this exercise over the summer.”
The publication of the enforcement strategy was accompanied by a series of raids of bogus colleges and a firm of solicitors believed to be issuing false education certificates to illegal entrants.