English proficiency tests mulled
A proposal to test the English language skills of foreign workers could come into effect later this month, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
A Ministry of Home Affairs spokeswoman yesterday confirmed a draft policy is now under review.
The spokeswoman added the proposals were “in circulation for consultation”, and that Walton Brown, the home affairs minister, would discuss the move at a press conference today.
The Department of Immigration posted the draft English Speaking Work Permit Policy online on September 21 and gave an “effective” date of October 19.
The policy document said that some employers were “finding it more and more difficult to recruit from English-speaking countries”.
It added that “it is unacceptable to have foreign nationals serving persons, whether it is in a restaurant, a hotel or a rest home, who cannot communicate effectively in English”.
The immigration department said: “It is dangerous in a job where one has to also read prescriptions or the labels of dangerous chemicals.
“Consequently the following policy is being put into effect.”
Job categories cited cover industries where the employee has contact with the public or where lives could be put at risk.
• Restaurants, food service and hotel workers
• Health professionals
• Caregivers in nursing jobs
Workers from countries where English is not the first language will be required to show evidence of a pass in an English as a second language course under the new policy.
The statement added the department could not police proficiency in English. However it said it would act on “complaints from members of the general public that work-permit holders cannot speak or understand English or if public officers witness this deficiency themselves”.
Workers already employed on the island will be given a language test at the Department of Immigration. The statement said: “If the language test results indicate that the person is deficient — they fail the test — in their understanding of and/or ability to speak English, the natural justice process will be administered and the employer and employee will be advised that the minister is considering revoking the work permit.
“Both parties will be given 14 days to provide a written response as to why the minister should not revoke the work permit.”
Bermuda's immigration policy already has regulations on English proficiency. But they are restricted to nationals who fall under the Portuguese Accord and who work in the construction industry.
The restriction is a standard stipulation on Bermuda work permit applications and part of a 1982 agreement between the governments of Bermuda and Portugal, which covered terms for residence and employment for Portuguese contract workers. The new policy set proposes denying entry to Bermuda in cases where Customs or immigration staff observed first-time work permit holders who arrived and showed an inability to speak or understand English.
People judged to not be fluent enough in English would not be cleared through customs and would be sent home at their employer's expense.
A source close to the Consultative Immigration Reform Working Group said the proposal did not originate from them.
The working group drew up a report last year which has now gone to a bipartisan committee of the House of Assembly for review.
• To view immigration draft policy on this matter, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”.