David Cameron has been accused of a “lazy and misguided” approach after warning that Muslim women who fail to improve their English language skills could be deported as part of a drive to build community integration and counter extremism.
The Prime Minister warned that not speaking English adequately could make people “more susceptible” to the recruitment messages of groups such as Islamic State (IS) – though he accepted there was no “causal link”.
If people come here on a spousal visit, we’ve now said they have to learn English in order to get that visa. If they don’t they can’t be guaranteed a full visaPrime Minister David Cameron
Mr Cameron faced a backlash from Muslim groups and former Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi for linking the issue of English language skills to extremism.
He said it was not acceptable that women in parts of the UK were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative and faced sex-segregated school governors’ meetings.
A £20 million language fund is being set up to help end what he called the “passive tolerance” of separate communities which left many Muslim women facing discrimination and social isolation.
Mr Cameron visited a mosque and a project for Bangladeshi women in Leeds to publicise his new proposals.
Speaking during the visit, the PM said: “The evidence is that there are some 40,000 women in our country who really don’t speak any English at all and, perhaps altogether, some 190,000 with very poor English.
“I think it’s quite right to say to people who come to our country that there are many rights that you have here – it’s a fantastic country to live in – but there are also obligations that we should put on people who come to our country, and chief amongst them should be obligations to learn English because then you can integrate, you can take advantage of the opportunities here and you can help us to build the strong country that we want.”
Asked about the threat of deportation, Mr Cameron said: “What we’ve said is that if people come here on a spousal visa, to be a husband or a wife, we’ve now said they have to learn English in order to get that visa.
“But after two-and-a-half years, halfway through the programme of getting settlement, they should be improving their English, and if they don’t do that then they can’t be guaranteed to be able to go to the full stage and retain their visa.”
Women arriving in the UK under a spousal visa are expected to have English skills at the internationally-recognised A1 beginner level – roughly equivalent to a British-born child starting primary school.
Under the PM’s proposal, the women would be expected to have reached the A2 – elementary – level after two-and-a-half years, and B1 – intermediate – after five years.
Lady Warsi, the former Tory chairman who was the first female Muslim Cabinet minister, welcomed the new money for language teaching, claiming it had been a mistake to cut funding for this while she was in government.
But Lady Warsi condemned the way the measure was announced: “This lazy and misguided linking, and what I saw once again as stereotyping of British Muslim communities, I felt took away from what was a positive announcement.”
She said: “My parents came to this country with very little English – my mum’s English still isn’t great, even though she has been to English language classes.”