The latest immigration laws making speaking and reading English compulsory for those coming to Britain from non-European Union countries is bound to block a large number of skilled migrants, probably as many as 35,000.
The tests will be strict and include traditions and English values apart from spoken and written English.
Described as a controversial crackdown, these rules are being unveiled by Gordon Brown in a speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton. His aides said the initiative would form a “key plank” of the government’s new policy on immigration.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said, “Those who we welcome into the United Kingdom to work and settle here need to understand our traditions and feel they are part of our shared national culture.”
Under the government’s new “points” system, there are three main categories of immigrants coming to Britain from outside the EU to work — highly skilled, skilled and low-skilled workers. The first two can eventually settle permanently, the third cannot. But now, Brown and Smith have decided the condition will be extended to all skilled migrants, who numbered 96,000 last year. According to government sources, about 35,000 of them would not have passed an English-speaking test.
Smith confirmed this. She said, “At present, people who seek to come to the UK permanently are required to speak English… We want to make speaking English a requirement for those coming to the UK to do lesser skilled work.”
All these laws are being introduced, said an immigration lawyer, because Brown has been stressing his preference for training unemployed and low-skilled Britons to fill the country’s skills gap rather than relying on additional migrants.