Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory

A pre-entry test of people’s English language abilities is unfair, impractical, and potentially discriminatory, Ruth Grove-White of the Migrants’ Rights Network.

Ruth Grove-White is a policy officer at the Migrants’ Rights Network

This week the High Court is hearing a legal challenge to a new immigration rule, which requires people wanting to join their husband, wife or partner in the UK to pass an English test before they can come. The judicial review has been brought by three couples who are arguing they have been unfairly prevented from bringing their spouse here because of the rule, which came into effect on November 29th last year.

One of the appellants has reportedly told the Court the policy is deliberately aimed at keeping out people undergoing arranged marriages, and as such that it discriminates against people from the Indian subcontinent.

This case is a welcome legal challenge to this controversial new rule, and the opportunity to scrutinise whether it represents a breach of fundamental human rights.

Outside the courtroom, the judicial review has also proved to be an opportunity for a wider public debate about whether being able to speak English in the UK is a good thing or not. This is a no brainer: of course people living in the UK benefit from speaking the language.

They will find it easier to get a job, make friends and take part in their local community. People who speak English are in a better position to understand their rights and avoid exploitation. And for people coming here to join their husband, wife or partner, learning English is likely to be an important part of building a life in the UK and reducing their dependency on their other half.

But the real issue under scrutiny this week is when people coming here to join their loved one should have to prove they can speak English, and what support is given to them to do so.

Until last year, there was no English language test for people coming here on a spouse or partner visa from outside the European Union, until they applied for settlement after two years. This gave people wanting to live in the UK with their family time to learn English in an English-speaking environment, before passing a test to prove it.

But new regulations since last November follow a tougher example set by Denmark and the Netherlands. Since then the rules demand spouses and partners pass an English language test before coming to the UK.

Senior government ministers have speculated 10 per cent of visa applications would be refused as a result of the new regulation, apparently viewing this rule as making a contribution towards overall targets to reduce net migration levels. We have been arguing since last year that introducing a pre-entry test of people’s English language abilities is unfair, impractical, and potentially discriminatory.

At the most basic level, it just doesn’t make sense to demand people coming here to join their family speak a language of a country they may never have been to, rather than giving them a chance to learn it when they arrive.

Six months on, with this regulation coming under scrutiny in the courts, accounts we have heard from people indicate couples are already being split up as a result of the pre-entry language requirement. Official figures on this aren’t yet available, but people from a range of countries including Nicaragua, Ukraine and Turkey report real difficulties in taking the test, meaning they have been unnecessarily separated from their loved ones.

There is also a big argument about who this new requirement affects. The argument being put to the High Court is that this regulation disproportionately affects people wishing to bring foreign spouses here from India and Pakistan – an argument supported by figures on family migration which show the most common countries of origin for family migrants lie within the Indian subcontinent.

This sort of impact would be indefensible, whether or not it was intended by the government. But in addition, this new rule also affects plenty of other Brits with foreign partners. I spoke to a woman from Runcorn earlier this week who had experienced real problems bringing her Serbian husband here because of the language test – she was outraged the government was interfering in her ability to live with her husband.

Ultimately, the government says this new requirement is aimed at promoting integration. But what we have seen so far is it is already causing distress and resentment across Brits and migrant communities alike, and may be judged to fall foul of basic international human rights standards.

The government should think again.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

41 Responses to “Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory”

  1. Migrants Rights Net

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/qsgA2zv via @migrants_rights

  2. Sarah

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/qsgA2zv via @migrants_rights

  3. CharliaHR

    Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical & potentially discriminatory: http://bit.ly/pgJ7XM by @Migrants_Rights' @RuthGWhite

  4. Francoise Barlet

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/qsgA2zv via @migrants_rights

  5. Duncan Stott

    Speaking English in the UK is advantageous. But it shouldn't be enforced. http://trunc.it/gyy8f

  6. BC Kumar

    Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://bit.ly/n62Rcu

  7. Free Movement

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/qsgA2zv via @migrants_rights

  8. BC Kumar

    Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially … http://bit.ly/p6tWc3

  9. AltGovUK

    Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical & potentially discriminatory: http://bit.ly/pgJ7XM by @Migrants_Rights' @RuthGWhite

  10. Alex Burrett

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/4P3iFeS

  11. BC Kumar

    Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://bit.ly/p0VtiO

  12. Nando Sigona

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/qsgA2zv via @migrants_rights

  13. Pat

    Why does it need to be different for people coming frmo non-EU and EU countries. I do understand that this is because of the freedom of movement directive, but asking one group for more is not right.

  14. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical and potentially discriminatory http://t.co/Wlh6qd3

  15. Lee Collins

    When will people in positions like yours start to realise, that the vast majority of people in this country want immigration cut to levels that our education, health service, housing systems can cope with. Some inner cities in this country have become enclaves of immigrants of a particular type, that have no desire or wish to integrate. There are hordes of people that have lived in this country for decades, but have not learnt to speak the language! Immigration works best when it evolves over time and at sustainable levels, where people are made to mix with others and so you have many cultures amongst each other. When you allow immigrants from one particular area to settle in their own community, then you have zero integration and that does nothing for the public good! The time for debate is over anyway. The government was elected on the promise that it would deal with immigration. If it fails, it will lose the next election and that vast majority that I spoke of, will elect a government that will take the action that is necessary! Get your head out of a text book of rights and start learning a bit more about responsibilities and get in the real world!

  16. Ali Muhammed

    I assylum seeker and thing We human just like english and come for dignity and work. i be told that i with 6 children have share 4 rooms in house in bad part of london and wife from afganistan have pay herself for her flight to england to join family.

    i used love england but it against our dignity that we not given better.

  17. DavidG

    And what if the resident spouse speaks Welsh, or Gaelic, or Angloromani, or whatever? There are 14 extant indigenous languages spoken in the UK, 15 counting BSL. And that last raises a further problem, how does someone deaf and without speech or deaf-blind demonstrate that they pass the test? Is the regulation fundamentally at odds with the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act?

  18. Ed's Talking Balls

    Assuming the rules already applicable in Holland and Denmark are compliant with the Convention, the government should have little to worry about.

  19. Leon Wolfson

    Except very arguably they are not…and as I understand it they are structured differently in any case.

    @2 – How about someone dyslexic who has problems learning languages? (As I am, and do)

  20. Jim

    What happens if a person comes for settlement in a Welsh or Scottish Gaelic speaking area and then moves to England or vice versa. Will people still be complaining about the European migrant workers who don’t speak English and will the non EU ethnic peoples be subject to this ridiculous test ? I think it is morally wrong for the state to impose restrictions on the freedom of their citizens to marry whom they please and live with them in their own countries! I think this sort of monitoring and regulations over peoples personal rights and freedoms is twisted and politically charged. Most immigrants I have met who come from outside Europe who have to work out of necessity will try and learn the language ! The oddest thing is that under the Europeans laws other EC citizens who have non EC spouses will be allowed entry in to the UK as the UK cannot control the right of family over EU citizens and their spouses! Now ask yourself is this law being brought in against the spouses of BRITISH CITIZENS Morally right ?

  21. Jim

    By the way the Tories go on citing America as an Example but under the system spouses are not restricted from living there its only when they become citizens is their both a language and constitutional knowledge test!

  22. Anon E Mouse

    Ruth Grove-White – Whilst I am certain that your motives in this matter are done for the right reasons I feel that yesterday your response to the ex-pat living in Spain was evasive and simply did not answer the valid points she raised.

    For clarity would you mind explaining why the Spanish authorities are wrong when they provide translators at the individual needs cost instead of the Spanish taxpayer?

    Secondly why should the NHS take much needed money from core health matters to spend on translation services for people in up to 17 different languages? Aren’t operations more important to people?

    Well meaning bleeding heart liberals in this country fail to realise is that these types of issues play directly into the hands of the far right – ask John Cruddas or Tessa Jowell – because the average person here cannot understand why, or more importantly who, authorises the translations that cost our country £millions each year and by being privatised would increase employment massively.

    If there is a single person reading this that believes it is better to spend money on translations in the NHS instead of treating people who are ill then I would suggest they just don’t get it. Like Leon Wolfson’s comments would indicate.

    You heard that journalist who’s mother from Pakistan didn’t speak English despite being here for 30 years Ruth Grove-White and you heard the terrible effects it had had on her life and that evidence alone should have made the Migrant’s Rights Network revise it’s position.

    Despite being presented with the evidence from a minority you claim to represent, you simply ignore it carry on regardless with your agenda and that arrogant position is not supported by the majority of normal people in this country. It will make people (unfairly) resent the very people you claim to represent and I would argue that if someone does not have the tenacity to learn to communicate with the population of the country in which they wish to reside, then they should be refused admission here.

    If they went to Spain they would have to learn Spanish or pay for the translations themselves. Why is it that other European country isn’t breeching some stupid law formed elsewhere?

  23. Richard

    “Some inner cities in this country have become enclaves of immigrants of a particular type”

    Like Knightsbridge and Mayfair.

  24. Richard

    “the translations that cost our country £millions each year and by being privatised would increase employment massively.”

    Mickey Mouse’s ignorance on full display. The translations are already delivered by private companies contracted by the NHS, courts etc and carried out by privately employed translators like my partner.

  25. Jane Ayres

    Pre-entry English tests are unfair, impractical & potentially discriminatory: http://bit.ly/pgJ7XM by @Migrants_Rights' @RuthGWhite

  26. Ed's Talking Balls

    It’s a perversion of logic to argue that simply because we can’t do anything about immigrants within the EU, because we have surrendered sovereignty in this area, we shouldn’t do something about a situation which, thankfully, remains within our control.

  27. Ed's Talking Balls

    Privatised or not Richard, I have a simple question: do these services entail a cost to the state? Surely that’s what Anon E Mouse was driving at.

  28. Anon E Mouse

    Richard – You say: “The translations are already delivered by private companies contracted by the NHS, courts etc and carried out by privately employed translators like my partner”

    That’s the point. DUH!

    I can see that the vested interests are starting shrieking when THEIR financial situation may change. All they do in Spain is bill the person using the service and not the rest of us.

    This is an English speaking country Richard and despite your selfish attitude in the I, Me, Mine (It’s a Beatles song btw) position you adopt, it’s the fact we do speak English that gives your partner his or her job.

    The only difference is the bill isn’t paid by the NHS and that means more money can be spent on helping people’s clinical needs instead of lining your pockets to the detriment of others. You’d still get paid the same rate just from someone else.

    When people are refused cancer drugs Richard to continue to pay you your mortgage I hope you sleep easily. The only difference in Spain is the people who need the service quite rightly pay for it and little children deprived of life saving operations don’t suffer so you can swan around the capital pouring out your usual selfish bile whilst sucking on the teat of the NHS.

    You have a frankly disgusting attitude and thanks to selfish people like you the NHS is in the mess it’s in.

    Well done Richard…

  29. Ruth Grove-White

    Thanks for your comments Anon E Mouse. My view is that the NHS was set up around the principle of helping people access healthcare at the point of need. Translation is essential for some people to make sure they get the care they need – and it is more cost-effective to treat people immediately it than to provide barriers (e.g. charge translation fees which some people may not be able to pay) and causing bigger (and more expensive) health problems later on. Plus migrants do pay taxes too…

    Regarding the journalist on the radio show, we agreed that the rules have changed since her mother came here. If the mother came from Pakistan now she would have to pass an basic English test after two years which I think is reasonable. What is not reasonable would be testing her before she even arrived.

  30. Anon E Mouse

    Ruth Grove-White – We will agree to disagree I’m afraid.

    I just think that it is a bonkers situation where the host country of the most widely used language in the world has to take money from it’s taxpayers to provide a benefit for others and actually takes that money from a clinical budget that is paid for to provide care for people who are ill.

    It does not help cohesion when a fellow subject cannot converse without the use of a third party and I’m afraid I have to agree with this Labour Party policy from their days in government.

    Thank’s for the reply anyway and you presented well yesterday…

  31. Pegaz

    I don’t think that it is unreasonable to provide a service that is needed to people who pay taxes. If we start looking how to make people pay for things that only a certain group needs why stop there, plenty of things that a welfare state offers are not essential or could be avoided…

  32. Anon E Mouse

    Pegaz – Those people aren’t British though. If I went to another country I wouldn’t expect them to pander to my minority status. Who would?

    Why is it OK everywhere else in Europe that people who aren’t native to that country are accommodated?

    I’m with the Labour Party who brought this in I’m afraid…

  33. Leon Wolfson

    @Mouse – Of course, I know your view: you can’t provide proper information to those dirty foreigners, who shouldn’t be in this country in the first place.

    BNP party line.

    It would cost a LOT more if someone was treated for the wrong thing and sued the NHS, quite apart from it being a typical right-wing attack on the principle of core NHS services being free.

    @17 – Except the people are either taxpayers OR paying OR getting emergency care. Unless you think it’s fine for people to die rather than get care…even America doesn’t go that far.

    Mouse is fine with that, of course, since they’re not the “right” nationality, but really? (Yes, they DO check if you need to pay for non-emergency care, and have for years – and you don’t get it until you’ve been paying taxes for some time as well)

  34. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – Considering the pack of lies you constantly pour out on this site even I find myself surprised that you show such lack of understanding of how things function in this country yet still feel you need to comment here.

    I never mentioned “dirty foreigners” you did. In fact your whole approach on this fine blog is to show your obsession with different races – you are inherently racist Wolfy and the likelihood of you being “ambushed” twice for being white by marauding gangs of the BNP is so improbable to be nonsensical. It is just a pack of lies Wolfy and you know it.

    Onto your points Wolfster.

    Are you now saying that the NHS is so useless that it can’t perform medical interventions without being able to converse with the individual? If someone has a broken leg then its obvious that is what’s wrong. Do the ambulance services refuse to treat someone is a road accident because they can’t speak to them? No of course they don’t. Grow up Wolfy.

    Is Spain the person would simply take a relative or friend who could translate for them. Are you now saying this country is so helpless we couldn’t organise something that simple?

    If it’s an illness that requires description, then the individual SHOULD SPEAK ENGLISH. If they are foreign they should be paying for the treatment anyway and so the translator should be paid for in that cost – not the taxpayers.

    The only person here who seems content that they shouldn’t speak English is you Wolfster – the author isn’t. She just questions when it should be done and gives her reasons for that.

    As for the NHS being free it isn’t. It has to be paid for taxpayers. DUH!

    Still from someone like yourself who believes the Incredible Hulk is real did you imagine Jack dropped gold coins from his magic beanstalk into the government’s piggy bank?

    Tell me why you think it’s acceptable for a medical budget to be diverted into providing free translations instead of treating people who are ill?

    The clue is in the name Wolfy. The National HEALTH Service. Pay particular attention to the word HEALTH please 006 (or whichever secret agent you think you are this week) and stop commenting on this blog unless you have something valid to contribute to the discussion…

  35. Leon Wolfson

    Mouse – Yes, I’m pointing out the consequences of your BNP-party-line views. If you don’t want them held up to view, don’t support them. It’s really that simple. You have supported attacks on myself for being Jewish, for you to then claim that others are racist is a typically poor farce.

    And of course you need to be able to communicate with people before they’re treated, even in most emergency situations. Calling for anything else is calling not to treat those people, of course. You have no concept of how medical treatment works, and are again simply following the BNP party line blindly.

    And the NHS isn’t free? Okay, where’s the credit card you paid with NHS service last time you went to a GP or a hospital? Ideological attacks and bigotry from you, rather than engaging in even the slightest way on any issue.

    Proving acceptable medical treatment means understanding what they’re saying. Period. You’re just calling for NHS treatments to be withheld from non-English speakers. Of course that’s unacceptable to you as a BNP member, who can’t even understand the very concept of equality and decency as constructive.

  36. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – Your Credit Card payments point for the NHS is surely not serious? Are you bonkers as well as deceitful?

    I happen to share a view on this matter that is different to yours. My view is to support the changes brought in by the Labour Party and continued by the coalition. My view is in the mainstream in this country – you hold a minority opinion.

    I have explained numerous times that I am not racist and indeed I have not stated a single thing that would suggest I am.

    You on the other hand have told lies to attempt to get some kind of sympathy here claiming that a marauding gang of BNP members “ambushed” you from behind the bushes. Twice.

    You claim to be religious, as I myself indeed am and both of us follow an Abrahamic faith. I would suggest since you constantly lie in public forums that you are simply lying in your claims to be religious at all. I have a Jewish brother in law and can assure you he does not lie the way you do. But convince me Wolfy.

    1. When were you “ambushed” by this gang of BNP activists? (Twice).
    2. How did they know you were Jewish prior to being “ambushed”? (Twice)
    3. How did you know they supported the BNP whilst being “ambushed”? (Twice).
    4. What was the police response to you being “ambushed”? (Twice).
    5. What was the nature of your injuries from being “ambushed”? (Twice).

    The fact is you continue to misrepresent my position despite being informed otherwise. I simply do not believe your silly story about being “ambushed” (twice) and find it deeply concerning that whenever you see any post from me you simply cannot resist posting a reply.

    I fully enjoy it because it gives me an excuse to say:

    WATCH OUT FOR THE MONSTERS IN THE BUSHES BEHIND YOU WOLFSTER!!!! MMMWWWHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  37. Leon Wolfson

    No Mouse, I don’t lie all the time like you do. Neither do I revel in physical attacks by the thugs which belong to the party I support, mostly because there are not any.

    Your claiming majority-support for your views is typically sick and twisted, as is the far-right’s. As the BNP does, you have claimed that you’re not “racist”, it just so happens that you behave exactly as IF you’re racist. Right.

    I don’t need to give details of crimes, to identify myself and make myself a target yet again for your friends, and I won’t. It’s a transparent attempt, and entirely typical of a BNP member…dumb and transparent.

    Thanks for that. You keep on messing in threads where adults are talking, and it’s annoying.

  38. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – I simply do not believe you and true to form you have refused to answer the questions.

    OK then just tell me how you knew this marauding gang that “ambushed” you (twice) were BNP members because although the only time I seen a BNP member was Nick Griffin on QT so I wouldn’t know what they looked like.

    You can answer that surely without compromising your safety or leaving yourself open to “ambush” for what would be thrice?

    I do not behave like a fascist in any way because I’m not, I just do not share your minority views of the world – that is simply your Labour lies and smearing.

    But go on tell me how you knew the gang were BNP members Wolfster…

  39. Andrew

    Legal challenge to the pre-entry English test being heard this week http://fb.me/ZRjYN42O

  40. Rex Jacobs

    My ex-flatmate is North African, and her boyfriend is French. They live in the UK and speak in French to each other. Similarly, my colleague is Spanish and has a British boyfriend, they speak to each other in Spanish. Ok, they use English in their day to day life, but when they are with their partners they speak in a language which is comfortable for both of them. I think UKBA can be strict on sham marriage and deport people who are here illegally. But to force people to speak in official language is against couples right to choose which language do they want to converse in. When a wife/ husband wants to join their partner here in the UK, they should not force them to demonstrate knowledge of English. Language requirement can be forced at later stage – when people want to apply for ILR. I know the level of English required is very low, but in many parts of the world where travel costs are high, people don’t have computers, electricity, learning a foreign language is a rare commodity.

  41. Lionel Barnes

    My wife was refused a visa in Dec 2010. Following seriously bad advice from the supposed professional firm we employed to assist us. We married in May 2010 but waited until later in the year to apply for a visa because I was made redundant soon after returning from getting married in Russia. I am a British Citizen by birth and find this new rule now prevents me from living with the woman I fell in love with and married. I recall the PM’s speeches prior to his election about family values and the sanctity of marriage. All well and good as long as you don’t marry a non-eu citizen then it seems these values are disregarded, My wife took english lesson but because we were poorly advised did not take the test at an approved centre. We arranged further lessons and for her to take IELTS test, the only test available in Kaliningrad. Now the govt has decided that a score in IELTS that is 1 point short of level B1 is not acceptable. Its a double standard that is unacceptable. The set minimum is level A1, my wife has achieved at least level A2 but because she had to take the more difficult IELTS test her grades will not be accepted because she only achieved grade 3 in speaking. From the IELTS site an overall grade of 4, which my wife achieved, is not acceptable because she did not achieve grade 4 in all disciplines. This rule is discriminating against my wife and also against me by association on the grounds of language. The govt breaches my human rights by denying me the right to live with my wife, it could be argued that my right to marry is also breached as the govt is effectively dictating that should we marry non eu citizens they will make it difficult, to say the least, for a British Citizen to bring his/her spouse to the UK via immigration controls. I have written to UKBA (no tangible reply), David Cameron (letter forwarded to UKBA for response), Nick Clegg ( letter forwarded to UKBA for response), ED MIlliband (no reply), Yvette Cooper (No Reply), My MEP ( request for review sent to UKBA and as yet no response from UKBA), My MP ( not prepared to raise the issue in parliament, Obviously not politically beneficial) and finally the HOME SECRETARY ( No Response) The Home Secretary does not even have the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my letter. In all these letters I have stated that it is my belief that my wife has achieved at least the minimum level required and we have always intended for my wife to take further lessons in the UK. My wife and I want to live out our remaining lives together and she has every intention of integrating into UK life so learning the language is a must. Where better to learn it than in the UK. We do not want or expect any support from the govt in order to achieve fluency in English. As it stands now I am looking to sell up and move to a European country to find work and under EU law my wife will be permitted to live with me as I will be exercising treaty rights in a European country that is not my birth country. The UK Government is effectively forcing me to leave my country of birth because I chose to marry a non eu citizen. It makes my blood boil when, almost every day, I come across an EU citizen who has less command of the English language than my wife yet they are permitted to live here without any need to prove a level of English and without any intention of learning the language.

Leave a Reply