In a move being pilloried as racially coded and misguided, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday announced a new plan to punish and possibly deport migrants who fail to improve their English speaking skills shortly after resettlement.
"At the moment, someone can move here with very basic English and there’s no requirement to improve it," the Prime Minister wrote in The Times. "We will now say: if you don’t improve your fluency, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK."
Under the new visa rules, which Cameron said specifically aim to combat domestic extremism and the "social isolation of Muslim women," those coming to the UK on a spouse visa will be administered an English test two and a half years after arrival.
"I am not blaming the people who can’t speak English. Some of these people have come to our country from quite patriarchal societies where perhaps the menfolk haven’t wanted them to learn English, haven’t wanted them to integrate," Cameron said in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today on Monday.
He added that there is "a connection with combating extremism," arguing that improving English would "help people become more resilient against the messages of Daesh."
"I'm not saying there's some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist—of course not, that would be a ridiculous thing to say," he continued. "But if you're not able to speak English, you're not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, that you have challenges understanding what your identity is and you could be more susceptible to the extremist message that comes from Daesh."
The announcement was met with both ridicule and outrage. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the proposal "dog-whistle politics at its best"—at a time when growing Islamophobia around Europe and the world is already threatening vulnerable migrant populations.
"Linking women in the Muslim community who struggle with the English language to home-grown extremism only serves to isolate the very people Cameron says he is trying to help," Farron said.
As part of the announcement, Cameron also outlined a new £20 million community fund to teach English to so-called isolated women. Farron noted that this funding comes after the prime minister slashed £45 million from the budget for such language classes.
"Now the prime minister is dressing up a massive cut as a 20 million funding commitment," Farron added.
Guardian newspaper home affairs editor Alan Travis wrote Monday that "the prime minister is wrong to link the issue of integrating a small proportion of new migrants who can’t speak English, with that of tackling extremism. After all, speaking perfect English doesn’t appear to be a big problem for those British jihadis in Islamic State’s videos."
Further, Travis noted that Cameron's specific focus "raises a number of questions."
"Why just Muslim women? And why should foreign-born wives or husbands who arrive on a spousal visa face deportation if they don’t improve their English?" he asks. "And just how many older British emigrants would have to come home if the Spanish suddenly decided that they had to learn the local language as a condition of their continuing residence in the Costa del Sol?"
The Prime Minister's office says that while there are no current plans to remove migrants who fail to reach the required language level, the results "would be taken into account in any request to extend visas or apply for permanent residence."