Foreign workers in Ireland may have to prove English proficiency
10 November 2008
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Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan said he wanted to "link" English language standards into the work permits system and would be seeking to discuss the issue with Deputy Prime Minister, Mary Coughlan in her capacity as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
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While the minister said it would be "prescriptive" and "unfair" to attach an English language element to those seeking an initial work permit, he said that it could be introduced "for the purposes of renewal" of a work permit, adding "It is my firm belief that, from an integration perspective, we do need to build language skills into the green card system and the work permit system". When asked if this might take the form of an English language exam, he said: "We would look at that."
Mr Lenihan said other European countries had taken a similar stance on linking language proficiency to work permits, and in such a scenario the requirement would be for the person to pay for his or her own English language tuition.
The Government has previously been criticised for its perceived failure to provide easier access to English language classes, particularly from migrants' rights groups over its perceived failure to open up such classes to immigrants.
The move comes at a time when thousands of migrant workers are thought to have left the country because of the economic downturn there. Indeed, Mr Lenihan himself conceded that private research made available to his department indicated that as many as 80,000 foreign workers may have left Ireland in the past year. In view of these findings, work is being carried out by both the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs to ascertain the real figure based on the number of active and inactive PPS numbers.
Whilst Mr Lenihan hoped that the Deputy PM would be open to his proposals, he did acknowledge that "the whole situation has changed pretty radically" owing to the economic downturn and drop in the number of migrants.