Britain’s ‘learn English or leave’ policy can tear families apart

How failing an English-language test in the UK can tear families apart

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Earlier this week, David Cameron announced his latest policy toward immigrants. The policy, which comes into effect in October 2016, requires all those arriving on a spousal resettlement visa to the UK to sit an English-language exam 30 months upon their arrival. Should they fail the test, they will not be guaranteed the right to stay in the UK.

In interviews that followed the announcement, Cameron focussed on why this policy is needed for Muslim women, as if the policy was designed and created due to a problem they have caused. He also focussed on how this policy would counter radicalisation and terrorism.

Cameron’s biggest shortfall is his continued attempts to make headlines with ludicrous buzzwords that end up stigmatizing the Muslim community in the UK. This has been exacerbated by poor attempts to justify the policy, claiming that if one cannot speak English, they will “have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message”.

Tearing families apart

What David Cameron is missing is the impact this policy would have on children and their families. If a child’s mother was taken away because her English was not up to Cameron’s standards, the child is left with one single parent to take care of them and guide them.

Considering that entering the country on a spousal visa requires an income of £38,000 it means that the hosting spouse must be in the top 20 percent of earners in the UK and therefore likely to work long hours. Under these circumstances, the child is likely to barely have a part-time parent.

What David Cameron is missing is the impact this policy would have on children and their families

Yara al-Wazir

With a parent taken away, children caught in these circumstances might start to resent the government for this situation. It will be even more difficult for a child who is bilingual because their mother speaks broken English and is forced to converse in her mother tongue. And what about a child who is not exposed to a motherly figure at all? Indeed this policy has the potential to tear families apart.

Moreover, the removal of a parent from their family for failing a language test can be considered a breach of the Human Rights Act of 2010. Article 8 of this Act protects the right to private and family life. It can be argued that the removal of a parent is damaging to the children’s wellbeing.

“False premise”

While David Cameron addressed the impact of understanding the local language and its relevance to cultural integration, it is disappointing that, since 2011, he continues to use associate language proficiency with extremism.

It is indeed true that language is key to integration into the community; it builds bridges of understanding and therefore allows individuals to enter the marketplace, thus contributing to the economy and to greater economic well-being.

Could Britain’s growing labor force be the real reason behind Cameron’s new policy? May be, but his obsession with making the fight against terror seem like the be-all and end-all of his policies is toxic and a misrepresentation of what really matters.

Evidence supporting the importance of language integration and cultural assimilation exists when it comes to positive influence on the economy and cultural cohesion. This is what the prime minister should have lead with. There is no evidence linking a lack of English-language understanding with radicalization.

English for all

Although Cameron’s efforts to launch a £20 million program to teach Muslim women English is commendable, one must question why this fund is applied to Muslim women specifically. This is noteworthy considering Cameron government’s withdrawal of funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) fund in July 2015.

The message David Cameron is sending out is vague – does the government want immigrants to learn English and integrate, or does it want to continue to create policies that make immigrating to the UK more and more difficult, all the while using buzzwords that stigmatize the community?

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

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