By David Green
8:13PM BST 27 Jul 2011
When the last Labour government introduced a requirement that immigrants who wished to marry a British citizen must learn English before coming to live here, it struck most people as a perfectly reasonable expectation. But that requirement is now being challenged in the High Court on two grounds. First, it is said to be racially discriminatory, because it impacts disproportionately on certain ethnic groups; and second, under the European Convention on Human Rights, it is said to obstruct the right to family life.
The case has been brought by Rashida Chapti, who wishes to bring her husband to the UK from India. Her barrister claims that the language requirement contravenes Article 8, the right to family life, and Article 12, the right to marry. Mrs Chapti is reported to have travelled back and forth between India and Leicester for about 15 years, but now wishes to settle here with her husband.
The Labour government planned to bring the requirement into force in July 2011, but it was brought forward to November 2010 by the Coalition. When Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced her plans, she said: “I believe being able to speak English should be a pre-requisite for anyone who wants to settle here. The new English requirement for spouses will help promote integration, remove cultural barriers and protect public services.”
The requirement is not too exacting. Applicants will have to demonstrate English at “A1 level”, which requires them to demonstrate a basic command of conversational English, currently the same as the level required for skilled workers who have been offered a job in the UK. Similar expectations apply to immigrants seeking work throughout the EU. Since 2006, France has tightened up its rules. Anyone without a job, and especially if they lack scarce skills, must go through the French consulate in their home country. They have to prepare a petition showing why they should be allowed in. If they can’t speak French they have little chance.
Australia requires applicants for work visas to have “vocational English”, which means they must be able to read, write, understand and speak English well enough to hold down a job. Applicants may be required to take an independent test of proficiency. Canada requires proficiency in either English or French, and also requires applicants to take a language test from an approved agency.Read more.