10 June 2010

Integrate You Bastards

Here's a quick Home Office video explaining yet another layer of bureaucracy that is being added to visa applications:

The government is coercively insisting that people are an integrated member of society, and that English is the only language that will enable someone to integrate.

There are plenty of other societies that muddle along just fine with multiple languages. Britain still has a few itself. When will the government start coercing Welsh to start speaking English?

But why stop at language? There's lots more the government could do to promote integration. Religion for a start. Those bloody immigrants most likely hit by this rule are likely to be from the Indian subcontinent, and therefore unlikely to be Christian - the national faith. So enforce compulsory church attendance for all who wish to enter. We do it for our state schools, so why not for our borders too? It'll mean less of those unsightly minarets, and the end of terrorism, because Christians are never terrorists.

Or perhaps the state should insist on patriotic tattoos to emblazoned across the torso. A small cartoon British bulldog would suffice, but extra points for an enormous dewy-eyed Winston Churchill waving the Union Flag on top of an implanted speaker that plays a monophonic rendition of "Land Of Hope And Glory" when firmly pressed.

Only for immigrants though. If you fluked being born here, that's British enough. Otherwise that would start affecting me, and that's just not on.

You may have spotted a tiny bit of exaggeration above. But the crux of it is this: if someone can't speak English, that's not your problem. You might not like hearing a foreign language for the three seconds when you and an immigrant share the same bit of pavement, but that's just tough. Lump it or chill out.

I'll leave you with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I can't see how this new rule will fit with this:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.


NoetiCat said...

I am an immigrant myself, and I do feel it makes sense to require basic English skills if you are to be granted a visa for the UK*, because if someone doesn't speak even basic English, then they would not be able to study over here, find work, and it *does* cost councils and government departments etc a lot of money having to provide literature - including driving tests etc - in a huge range of languages, have to provide translators even for long-term residents etc.

A basic command of the language in the country you CHOOSE to settle in - we're not talking asylum here - is a matter of dignity and independence.

I'm particularly thinking of arranged marriages here, where having command of the English language might make a huge difference between being a prisoner in the husband's family's home, and being able to get help, and communicate your issues when you require it.

A family I know in Switzerland who immigrated from Egypt due to the father's work, was allowed to settle as they spoke French, however they then moved to a German speaking part, and the dependency of the mother - who spoke neither English nor German and refused to learn - on her children and her authoritative husband, for even very personal things like going for a pap smear etc, caused a lot of immense tensions in the family. That is *not* dignified.

* I do however feel that they should provide a basic course as long as the other visa requirements are fulfilled.

Duncan Stott said...

So instead of not not being able to study or work here, we force them try and find work in the poor Indian subcontinent communities where they happened to be born. If they were allowed into the UK, they could find work within a community that shares a foreign language, or find low-skilled work, or stay at home and learn English, or don't. It's their lives, not ours.

I'm not saying the government should pay for translation of literature. It would be quite simple for translation to be provided privately. I could imagine a business that sells translated copies of standard government forms, for example, or could provide back-translation services. That won't work for everything, but bear in mind immigrants pay their taxes too, and ridiculous sums for visa applications, so it is not unreasonable for government to provide some translation.

I'm all for more choice, and what I'm arguing against here is a restriction in choice. Choosing where you live, and choosing to live with dignity and independence, while there's a complex relationship between two, are still fundamentally separate choices. While your anecdote is interesting, I don't see how government could (or should) micro-manage people's lives to avoid situations like this. It comes down to making difficult choices in our own lives, and living with the consequences of them, instead of outsourcing them to the state. That's what being liberal is all about for me.

NoetiCat said...

"So instead of not not being able to study or work here, we force them try and find work in the poor Indian subcontinent communities where they happened to be born. "

Pardon? Firstly, a lot people from so called poor countries speak decent English.

Secondly, if you apply for a visa to live and work in the UK or join a spouse, you already have to do so in your country of origin, so I really don't understand what you're so worked up about. This is not about asylum seekers but about people who wish to settle in the UK and contribute to society.

I did also suggest providing them with the opportunity to take a course and pass it in their own country.

No country exists for the sole purpose of providing opportunities for people who are not their citizens, and I don't think it is dignified to, as you suggest, condemn someone to a community of people who also can't speak English and who survive on low-skilled, low-paid work.

I do however see your point to some degree, say for seasonal workers who only need a TEMPORARY permit, however if someone moves to a place to settle there, what's wrong with making sure that they can make their needs known rather than risk, like poor Shebaz Shahar, being a prisoner of your family or in-laws and slipping through the cracks of the system because you didn't know enough of the language before coming here, to ensure you were here legally (not on a student visa like in her case) and kept virtual prisoner without having the means to communicate your needs or state your case properly when you get into trouble.

Duncan Stott said...

I didn't say countries, I said communities. The people who can speak English in poor countries are the relatively well-off. BBC's Mark Easton has done analysis on this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2010/06/is_english_test_really_about_i.html

I know this is nothing to do with asylum. I didn't mention it. This is to do with people who are choosing to settle in the UK, rather than being forced to. Language shouldn't be a barrier to this.

Look at it this way: we don't bar EU citizens without English as a language from settling in the UK, and no significant problems have arisen. I see no reason to treat non-EU citizens any differently to EU citizens.

False imprisonment is against the law. Her family ought to be put on trial. Instead we deported her and her baby into who knows what danger. We punished the victims rather than the perpetrators. That's a far more salient issue than the language requirements on her visa application.

NoetiCat said...

This is interesting, actually to get a visa to work here you already need to fulfil this: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/Broadcasts/DG_188359