Friday, March 20, 2015

English language requirements for migrants inadequate


English language requirements for migrants inadequate

Government attempts to tighten English language requirements for migrants are inadequate, according to a Durham University immigration expert. Professor Thom Brooks at Durham Law School argues that the government has failed to ensure new British citizens have satisfactory English skills.

Migrants wanting to apply for permanent residency or citizenship used to be able to pass the controversial ‘Life in the United Kingdom’ citizenship test to prove sufficient knowledge of English. The government stopped this practice and imposed new requirements aimed at raising the level of English proficiency all new migrants must satisfy to live and work permanently in the UK.

Professor Brooks claims the new government policy has too many loopholes that should never have been allowed. He says: ‘The government has made a dog’s dinner of making migrants prove knowledge of English. Expired out-of-date qualifications are accepted as proof under the new rules. Earning a degree from an overseas institution is satisfactorily only requiring the foreign college or university confirms the degree was taught in English – their word is taken at face value. This must change’.

There are currently over a dozen exemptions based on nationality, education, age, physical or mental condition, widows or widowers and highly skilled migrants. Applicants can also be exempt if from one of a list of about 17 listed countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, but also Belize. Countries like Singapore and South Africa are excluded. The government provides no rationale for why listed countries make the cut: they do not include all countries where English is the official or majority language.

Professor Brooks says: ‘Not every US citizen is a fluent English speaker. Foreign nationality is not a satisfactory test for knowledge of English. The government should close the door on unnecessary loopholes and support a standard English test. This will better improve and maintain standards while providing crucial income for English language services under increasing strain’.

Professor Brooks is known as a leading authority on UK immigration law and policy. He published the only comprehensive report on the UK citizenship test calling it ‘unfit for purpose’ and ‘like a bad pub quiz’ that made headlines worldwide. He is originally from the US and became a British citizen in 2011.



Further reading

Thom Brooks, The ‘Life in the United Kingdom’ Citizenship Test: Is It Unfit for Purpose? Durham: Durham University, 2013
·         Video launch:

Home Office, ‘Prove your knowledge of English for citizenship and settling’ (29 December 2014)

Home Office, ‘Knowledge of language and life in the UK for settlement and naturalisation: Statement of intent, changes to the requirement from October 2013’ (October 2013)

*TV and radio broadcast facilities available*


Professor Thom Brooks, Professor of Law and Government, in Durham Law School, Durham University, is available for comment and ISDN line is available. Telephone: +44 (0) 191 334 4365 (Office) OR EMAIL


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