Spouses of Indian and other non-EU migrants may have to pass another English language barrier in Britain from October to test if they have “improved” their language skills, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday.
Passing a test such as IELTS is already a requirement for a spouse visa. Cameron announced spouses will be tested again after arrival to check whether they have “improved” their knowledge of the language. The plans are expected to face much opposition.
He said: “After two-and-half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them. We will bring this in in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”
Asked on BBC Radio whether migrant spouses would be asked to leave if they failed, he said that was possible as “people coming to our country have responsibilities too”.
“They can’t guarantee they will be able to stay, because under our rules you have to be able to speak a basic level of English to come into the country as a husband or wife,” he said.
“We made that change already, and we are now going to toughen that up, so halfway through the five-year spousal settlement there will be another opportunity to make sure your English is improving. You can’t guarantee you can stay if you are not improving your language.”
Cameron made the announcement as part of a new focus on thousands of Muslim women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin who lack English skills. His remarks, including a link to extremism, sparked much criticism.
Declaring that the days of “passive tolerance” were over, Cameron criticised discrimination of woman in Muslim communities and announced plans to encourage them to learn English to integrate into British society.
“We must take on the minority of men who perpetuate these backward attitudes and exert such damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters. And we must never again allow passive tolerance to prevent us from telling the hard truths,” he wrote in The Times.
Cameron specifically identified those of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin in the article and followed it up with interviews and public announcements later in the day.
Cameron also linked Muslim women and their lack of English with terrorism, but critics promptly reminded him it was unfair since most Britons who went to Syria had a good knowledge of English and education.
“Consider this: new figures show that some 190,000 British Muslim women — or 22% — speak little or no English despite many having lived here for decades. 40,000 of these women speak no English at all. So it’s no surprise that 60% of women of a Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage are economically inactive,” he wrote.
Cameron added: “It is time to change our approach. We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, clearer about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together, and more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers…(We) will review the role of religious councils, including Sharia councils.”
As his remarks drew sharp reaction from former Conservative party chairperson Sayeeda Warsi, the Ramadhan Foundation said Cameron and his government were “once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough”.
It said in a statement: “There are three million Muslims in this country and the prime minister chooses to focus on a very small minority of extremists when clearly the majority of British Muslims reject extremism…This was a right-wing, neo-con prime minister delivering more of the same disgraceful stereotyping of British Muslims.”