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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE QUESTION AND IMMIGRATION POLICIES

 

Thursday, January 24, 2008.

 

By Keith Best

 

The immigration language crisis facing Britain is of the Government’s own making – by favouring eastern European nationals who do not have a tradition of the use of English over Commonwealth citizens who do, the Government has created a need for English language teaching that would otherwise be not as severe.

 

When the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke MP announced the Government’s Five Year Strategy on migration on February 5, 2005, he stated that he expected all the UK’s needs for low-skilled labour to be met from the eastern European new accession states to the EU” 

 

We criticised that policy then as, effectively, it slammed the door shut on low-skilled labour coming from the traditional route of the Commonwealth countries, especially from Africa and the Indian sub-continent. We have now been proved right but the Government shows no sign of remedying this situation.

 

The benefit of short-term labour migration from Commonwealth countries is that those citizens come from countries with historic links with the UK, often with their institutions based on those in the UK and where often the official language is English and where it is widely spoken and understood – this is the legacy of Empire and Commonwealth.

 

Moreover, those countries already have extensive expatriate populations already established in the UK which can provide a network of support and family ties for newcomers meaning that they can integrate more easily than those from eastern Europe.

 

The Government is concerned about the poor use of English and the obstacles to integration faced by migrant workers from eastern Europe yet they need only open up again the traditional routes of labour migration from Nigeria, Ghana, the West Indies, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to overcome many of those problems.

 

Under the new Points Based System which will begin its introduction this year the Government has Tier 3 for low-skilled labour migration but has set no date for its introduction and, indeed, cannot open up this route until such time as Bulgarian and Romanian citizens are given full access to the UK labour market – which the Immigration Minister Liam Byrne MP recently announced would not take place at least until the end of 2008.

 

This is an artificial crisis created by the Government’s own short-sighted policies on where migrant labour should come from. They should announce now that they will open routes for low-skilled workers from the Commonwealth, from where so much of British industry, especially the restaurant trade, relies for its labour needs.

 

Keith Best is the head of Immigration Advisory Service - a charity working for the welfare of migrants

 

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