Compulsory English language tests for new migrant workers

AnnieM, April 14, 2010

Under new government plans, public sector workers who speak English as a second language will be required to develop a higher standard of English before they can be employed in the sector. It will mean that migrant workers will have to take harder English tests to ensure their language level is proficient.

In their 2010 Election Manifesto, the current Labour Government says:

“We know that migrants who are fluent in English are more likely to work and find it easier to integrate. So as well as making our English tests harder, we will ensure it is taken by all applicants before they arrive...Many public sector workers are already required to meet minimum standards of English; we will build on this to ensure that all employees who have contact with the public possess an appropriate level of English language competence.”

These manifesto pledges, deemed controversial by some and ‘hypocritical’ by others seem to have stoked up outrage on both sides.

Whilst a logical move in some ways (communication skills are essential in almost any job, after all) it falls short of actual success due to the lack of funding available for English language courses. Without the implementation of such services, enforcing the ‘proficient standard of English’ rule would leave many migrants worse off, without the means of finding work.

Clearly, it does not make economic sense to employ a non-English-speaking candidate in a public-facing role. But equally, it does not make sense to enforce a rule without providing the means to meet the new criteria. Learning a new language is no easy feat: if there is no relevant support available, how will any newly-arrived worker find work in the sector?

Yet many people are of the opinion that this measure is ‘too little too late’ and view it as further evidence that the Government are being ‘soft on the immigration’.

Whatever your view and background, one thing is certain: good communication goes hand in hand with excellent service delivery. At a time when critique of public sector delivery has never been out of the news for more than a few hours, it is essential that frontline public sector employees are able to communicate fluently with the general public. It should be about how they achieve this level of fluency, not if they should.

As this is such an important issue affecting huge numbers of people, we’d like to open this out to our diverse candidate base. What are your thoughts on this?

For more information:

English language courses in the UK