Japanese expats fret Britain’s English requirement

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

The Japanese community in Britain is hoping the government will rethink plans for a new English language requirement for foreign nationals coming to work in the country.

The Japanese Embassy in London has expressed “serious concern” at initial government plans to ensure that all skilled workers from outside the European Union seeking work visas have an “acceptable” level of English language proficiency.

It was felt that the level suggested was too high for the many Japanese who come to Britain on intra-corporate transfers for periods of around three years.

The Japanese Embassy in London, along with other foreign governments, has been lobbying hard to ensure that ICTs are exempted from the English language requirement or that the level of English required is reduced.

An embassy spokesman said the initial level of English proficiency suggested by the government would have been a “hindrance” to Japanese firms dispatching staff on regular transfers. But the spokesman said he now feels the government was listening to the concerns of the Japanese and is awaiting a statement from the government in the next few weeks.

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Britain said it believes that, if introduced in its present form for ICTs, the plan would have a “profoundly negative impact” on Japanese firms here, and could lead to some relocating elsewhere in the EU.

However, there are indications the government may be about to water down its plan following pressure from foreign governments.

The government says no final decision has been made on the English language requirement for ICTs but a statement will be made shortly. Sources have said the Home Office is likely to lower the level of the English requirement for ICTs.

The English requirement is due to be introduced toward year’s end.

It is part of a general tightening up of Britain’s visa system in an effort to make it fairer and more objective. The requirement is designed to ensure that foreign nationals can properly integrate into the country and are prepared to work there.

Patrick Macartney, spokesman for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the majority of Japanese expatriates are working in Britain for a limited period of between three and five years and should therefore be treated differently from immigrants who are seeking to work and stay indefinitely.

“If the English proficiency requirement were to be compulsory, even for people who stay for such limited periods in this country, this would create a huge problem for the personnel rotation policy of many Japanese companies,” Macartney said.

“This is especially true in cases where companies need to send their technical or engineering experts, for whom the priority is their skills and/or knowledge and not language.

“The impact would be most severely felt by the manufacturing industry. Japanese companies (that) have factories in the United Kingdom might be forced to scale down or even relocate their operations because they could not secure the necessary number of technical people from Japan whose knowledge or experience was crucial to their operations.”

Danny Sriskandarajah, from the left-leaning think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research, said: “It (the English test) is going to be an issue. I don’t actually know the level required, but if it is to be meaningful, it has to be reasonably high. It will pose a challenge for people.”