Today, the BBC ran this story on how MPs and peers in a cross party working group have stated that immigrants should learn English before arriving to the UK, or attend classes immediately after arrival. This statement was made with intergration in mind, it stands to further isolate the country and harm a reputation that it once had for being tolerant. The message that “London…”, arrogantly meaning the rest of the UK, “… is open!” that was repeated like one of Robocop’s prime directives to great international fanfare during the New Year’s celebration just a few days ago, seems moot.
As an English language teacher trainer, the story seems like good news at face value but it raises more questions. How will language be assessed before arrival? If precedent stands, it will likely be via a well-known test designed for academic English to assess suitability to study in Higher Education. What is the threshold? Will potential immigrants need to be able to get by in their daily lives or will they need to be able to hold a conversation about coffee production in Brazil, or how there are too many talent shows on UK television? How will the proposed £20m be sufficient for post arrival classes when cuts to ESOL type provision saw cuts of £40m in 2015? Will the funding be discriminatory to certain demographics? Cameron’s promise of the said £20m certainly was. How will it effect organisations which rely on skilled migrant workers? Who knows, but it seems like they might be more tired and stressed if they have to attend additional mandatory language classes on to of the jobs that they are brought to the UK to do.
It seems like London is open, but only if you have money, skills, an aptitude for language learning and can handle the post-Brexit fallout and poor weather. Within one year of arriving, half of the people who actually can secure visas to the UK cannot.
The scheme is suggested to be run on a regional basis, following a similar model to Canada. This also raises the question, here in Wales, of whether immigrants should also be trained and tested in Welsh. As a lifelong citizen of the capital city of Wales, I must coyly admit that I would not fare well under such a scheme.