The Labour government has just laid out its new plans for immigration. They use phrases such as immigrants shall need to ‘prove their worth’ and show that they are ‘active’ citizens, which apparently means getting involved in the ‘community’. They, of course, are expected to learn ‘English’. Now I am always suspicious of plans that are designed to hold people from other countries to a higher standard than which we expect from ourselves, but, beyond this, I am actually quite intrigued as to how these aims will be carried out.
Let’s start with the easy one: learning English. I don’t consider myself to speak English. I speak Scots (I write in English, but only after many years in academia rid me of my Scottish phraseology and grammar). Even within England, there are a variety of dialects. How will ‘English’ be tested and what counts as English?
How community will be defined will also raise interesting questions. One of the major debates being had by government and academic bodies that is topical at the moment is the extent to which the sense of community has died everywhere from small villages to large towns. The Carnegie Trust has just started a major project to try and encourage the growth of 'communities' in rural areas, as a means to stimulating economic growth. The fact is people no longer gossip on street corners, but confine themselves to their homes, their mobile phones and the internet. People still have communities, but these are often no longer geographical. Communities exist through networking sites and blogging, through gaming sites and by instant messaging and texting. Communities are now based on shared interest, of which a shared workplace is still one of the strongest things that ties people together. The electronic nature of these interactions allow people to communicate over bigger distances, and let’s not forget with cars and public transport, not that many people still work in the communities in which they live. Yet, the government explicitly says that immigrants will need to be involved in the community BEYOND working and paying taxes. The government wants immigrants to be involved in a community that it is not sure even exists and to speak a language no one (maybe the queen) actually speaks.
It’s an interesting society that is being presented by the government, but does it exist. And if it doesn't what does that mean for immigrants.