Monday, July 26, 2010

"If you're not speaking English, then you're not coming in"

I covered this story originally in February, when the Labour Minister Phil Woollas started (with a bit of Old Labour sexism) the ball rolling:
On 12 August 2010 the UK Border Agency will implement secure English language tests for students under Tier 4 (General) of the points-based system.

If a Tier 4 (General) student will be studying a course that is below NQF Level 6 (except a Foundation Degree or an English language course), using a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) issued on or after 12 August 2010, their Tier 4 sponsor must ensure that they are competent in English language at a minimum of level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) by showing that they:

■are from a majority English-speaking country (as listed on the "Can you apply to Tier 4 (General)?" page; or
■have successfully completed a course as a Tier 4 (Child) student (or under the student rules that were in force before 31 March 2009, if they were granted permission to stay while they were under 18 years old) which lasted at least six months and ended no more than two years before the date when the CAS is assigned; or
■have passed an English language test with an approved test provider for Tier 4, and has achieved at least CEFR level B1 in all four components (reading, writing, speaking and listening).
Fuller details of the new rules are here, but effectively to reach that level of English-level competence you're looking at 300-400 hours of study and obviously quite a lot of expense.

The earlier controversy over this issue is still bubbling:
New rules to ensure that foreign students coming to the UK are able to speak English must have an opt-out for Welsh learners said Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams MP.

Mr Williams said:

"While fully understanding that the UK Government wants to crack down on bogus students attempting to enter the country illegally, we believe that they must take the position of Wales into consideration in drawing up these rules.

"Wales is a bilingual country. It has strong links with many parts of the world, most notably Patagonia, and we wish to promote our language to whoever wants to learn it, within Wales and outside.

"It is ridiculous that a student wanting to come to Wales to learn or improve Welsh must first spend around 400 hours learning English before they can even start a Welsh course, or that someone who has already spent years learning Welsh in Argentina must then learn English so that they can come to Wales!

"We will be raising this issue with the Minister for Immigration to come to an agreement under which students who can show that they are genuinely coming to Wales to learn Welsh can do so, whatever their fluency in English."
With regards foreigners wishing to study the Welsh language, the law will mainly affect Spanish/Welsh speakers from the Argentinian province of Patagonia and as I said originally, I have a great deal of sympathy with their plight; if concrete proof of funds and enrollment at official Welsh lessons is evidenced, I can't really see the problem or danger in their admission to the UK. In any event, Argentinians are permitted 6 month visa-free entry for the UK, so I'm not sure how the new regulation can be enforced if the prospective student plays it clever and decides to enter as a "tourist" rather than as a student.

While I was writing the post, I was thinking that this regulation could also impact on those Irish Language teaching institutions in Northern Ireland which offer courses to foreigners. Of course, such students could fly or sail to the Republic (which has a much more liberal attitude to these kind of cases) and cross the border via road, but theoretically wouldn't anyone wishing to study Irish, arriving at Belfast or any of the other UK ports of entry, also need that proof of that English language competence?

As a final "by the way", unlike the Republic, the United Kingdom does not have a constitutionally defined "official language". It is also a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which while not legally enforceable, requires states to "adopt appropriate legal provision for the use of regional and minority languages". I suppose that "appropriate" can have a pretty wide definition...

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