Migrants who fail language tests after two and a half years in the UK may be forced to leave, David Cameron has said, as he announced plans to encourage greater integration of Muslim women.
When asked whether a Muslim woman who had come to the UK on a spousal visa and had children without learning the language herself could be denied leave to remain, the prime minister said there would be no guarantee that those who did not improve their English could stay.
He outlined the plan in an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, claiming there were 38,000 Muslim women who could not speak English and 190,000 with limited skills in the language.
Cameron said not just Muslim women, but all those who entered the UK on the five-year spousal settlement programme would soon have to sit language tests halfway through that period.
“After two and half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the prime minister said. “We will bring this in in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”
Cameron stressed that he was not blaming those who could not speak English because “some of these people have come from quite patriarchal societies and perhaps the menfolk haven’t wanted them to speak English”.
But when questioned about whether they would be asked to leave the country if they failed to start learning the language, he said that was possible as “people coming to our country have responsibilities too”.
“They can’t guarantee they will be able to stay, because under our rules you have to be able to speak a basic level of English to come into the country as a husband or wife. We made that change already, and we are now going to toughen that up, so halfway through the five-year spousal settlement there will be another opportunity to make sure your English is improving. You can’t guarantee you can stay if you are not improving your language.”
Cameron defended his plan to launch a £20m language fund to help Muslim women unable to speak English. He had overseen cuts to funding for language lessons for immigrants.
Earlier, he called for an end to the “passive tolerance” of separate communities, which left many Muslim women facing discrimination and social isolation.
The prime minister said he would not avoid telling the “hard truths” required to confront the minority of Muslim men whose “backward attitudes” led them to exert “damaging control” over women in their families.
Published on :The guardian.co.uk