[lg policy] [Baalmail] new UK immigration regulations

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 23 14:20:18 UTC 2012

Forwarded From: James Simpson <J.E.B.Simpson at education.leeds.ac.uk>
Date: 22 June 2012 12:50

[Baalmail] new UK immigration regulations
To: baalmail <baalmail at lists.leeds.ac.uk>

Dear BAAL members

We would like to bring colleagues’ attention to a change to UK
migration law. The British Government has decided to raise the level
of English language and literacy required for British citizenship and
settlement in the UK. This will have profound implications for
migrants who are language and literacy learners.

Under the current arrangements those with a level of English gauged to
be below Entry Level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework
(benchmarked to B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for
Languages, CEFR) are entitled to enrol on a course of English for
Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) which includes a citizenship
component. If they progress a level, they are judged to have achieved
the language and citizenship requirements for settlement, without
having to take the electronic test. In 2004, when the proposals for a
language and citizenship test were first mooted, the ESOL community
fought long and hard for this alternative route for lower level

Now, the government will overturn this policy at one stroke. From
October 2013 this route will no longer be available and applicants for
settlement will have to both pass the citizenship test and provide
evidence of passing an English test at intermediate level. The UKBA
family migration announcement update 13 June 2012 states:

‘from October 2013 … all applicants for settlement [must] pass the
Life in the UK Test and present an English language speaking and
listening qualification at B1 level or above of the Common European
Framework of Reference for Languages unless they are exempt.’
See also Home Office Statement of Intent: Family migration (June
2012), in particular paragraphs 113-117:

The stated aim of the previous government was to encourage people to
apply for British citizenship. The new requirements of the current
government, however, will actually place settlement in the UK beyond
the reach of many would-be applicants, restricting it to those who can
read and communicate orally in English to intermediate level. To pass
both the Life in the UK test and a speaking and listening exam at B1
on the CEFR is a tall order for those who arrived in the UK with
limited English, and perhaps limited literacy in their own expert
languages. The Life in the UK test is a multiple choice test that can
only be taken in English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic), and is taken
on a computer. Questions are drawn from one source only, Life in the
UK: A Journey to Citizenship (latest edition 2007), which is only
available in English. The test is therefore quite transparently one of
English literacy and computer skills. Incidentally, the obligation to
pass the Life in the UK test is not only an ‘ESOL’ issue: we have
interviewed several people from former British colonies in the West
Indies and Africa who are not regarded as 'ESOL' learners but who have
low levels of literacy. These are people from former British colonies
who at one time would have been invited as workers to the UK. One
Ghanaian woman worked as a carer for the elderly during the day and as
a cleaner in Canary Wharf during the night. She paid taxes, her
children went to university here and yet she couldn't pass the test
because she couldn't use a computer or read at the level required.

Likewise, passing a speaking and listening exam at B1 on the CEFR
(e.g. Cambridge ESOL’s Preliminary English Test, or ESOL Entry Level
3). The ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe) ‘can do’
statements for speaking and listening at B1 state: ‘CAN express
opinions on abstract/cultural matters in a limited way or offer advice
within a known area, and understand instructions or public
announcements.’ That probably looks pretty do-able to the average
linguistically-naïve politician or civil servant. But how easy or
difficult this is to attain depends of course on the individual, their
context and their life history. ALTE suggest that B1 level can be
reached with around 400 hours of guided instruction
(http://www.cambridgeesol.org/about/standards/can-do.html). This may
well be realistic for someone who is already literate in their own
language and who was able to attain a reasonable level of education
prior to migration. Things are very different for someone who, for
example, missed out on schooling as a child for some reason, be it war
or famine, gender or family matters, or the upheaval of the migration
process. Such profiles are familiar to teachers of ESOL. The suggested
attainability of a speaking and listening exam pass at level B1 fails
to take into account something of a neglected variable in SLA –
alphabetic print literacy. Research by Tarone and colleagues, among
others, is beginning to demonstrate the benefits of both the
experience of schooling and the knowledge of literacy gained as a
child on an adult’s ability to develop their second language speaking
and listening (see Tarone et al 2009 Literacy and Second Language
Oracy. OUP). For many ESOL learners, both schooled experience and L1
literacy are missing. Consequently for many people the bar is now
simply too high, and the new language requirements will be

The government insists that the new requirements are linked to
‘integration’ (see
This government, like the previous one, wilfully conflates an ‘ability
to integrate’ with proficiency in the English language. Such a stance
denies the multilingual realities of contemporary life, and it is
depressing and frustrating to see, yet again, multilingualism
presented as a problem. The notion of ‘English = integration’ does not
take account of the linguistic and cultural resources held by
migrants, resources which may well help, not hinder, their integration
into multicultural neighbourhoods. We maintain that the new policy has
little to do with integration, however. It is applied differently
according to the country of origin and status of individual speakers,
and does not apply to EU citizens, whatever their ‘level’ of English.
This nails the lie to any claim that the policy is being put in place
for the purposes of social cohesion.

Access to English is crucial for everyone living in this country – we
are not denying that. But if the government were serious about
integration, then rather than presenting people with impossible
language demands, it would be bending over backwards to provide as a
right free and accessible ESOL classes for everyone from the point at
which they arrive in the UK. This is a government, however, that says
on the one hand that the ‘English Language is the corner-stone of
integration’ (Home Office Statement of Intent document June 2012, para
113, p.27), yet on the other can cut funding for ESOL to the core,
making it ever more difficult for new arrivals and more established
residents alike to gain access to the English language. We would argue
that these changes are discriminatory and racist and it is difficult
to see them as anything more than a squalid and shameless
vote-grasping strategy, which will be to the detriment of the poor and
vulnerable. We call on our colleagues in BAAL to join the ESOL
community in raising awareness of these changes with MPs, local
councillors, community organisations, colleagues and students, and
protesting against this policy change in whatever way we can.

James Simpson, University of Leeds
Melanie Cooke, King’s College London

ESOL-Research email list – Active online discussion forum for matters
concerning adult ESOL in the UK, managed by James Simpson at the
University of Leeds. www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ESOL-Research
Action for ESOL – Pressure group dedicated to resisting the
marginalisation of the field of ESOL and cuts to provision.
NATECLA, the National Association for Teaching English and other
Community Languages to Adults, the national professional organisation
for ESOL teachers. http://www.natecla.org.uk/

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