The EL-Gazette digital edition has emailed out the following message to all mailing list subscribers. It seems that the UK Border Agency has upped the ante, and has now made a Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) minimum requirement of a 'B1' level rather than (I believe it was) an 'A2' for anyone wishing to come and study English in the UK for more than 6 months. It still doesn't placate the nagging question of how this new move is supposed to be part of anti-terrorist measures. Absolute rubbish!
Stop press! : Britain closes to foreign students
In a move that sidesteps the UK Court of Appeal and the Houses of Parliament, and right as the Gazette goes to press, the British government has given just 24 hours' notice of a change to immigration law.
The change bans adult students from coming to the UK to study English or any other course below degree level for more than six months, unless they have passed a specified intermediate English qualification at B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
A new list of qualifications comes into effect from 12 August; the only ones accepted for entry are Toefl, Ielts, the Pearson Test of Academic English and Cambridge Esol exams. Among the qualifications no longer accepted is Toeic, the world's largest English language exam, which is taken by over four million candidates a year and dominates in Korea and Japan, the two largest markets for English language courses in Britain.
Students out of luck
The government laid the new immigration rules before parliament just 24 hours before implementation and three days before the beginning of the summer recess. It also comes at the peak time for student applications for courses for the next academic year. The House has forty days to disagree with the judgment, in which case the government must amend it, but this is unlikely to happen before autumn. Meanwhile, thousands of students will be rejected because they do not have the right language level, or because they do not have the correct qualifications.
The move follows two important rulings on the UK's student immigration policy by the British courts. In the first case, known as Pankina, three Lord Justices of the Courts of Appeal ruled, in what they described as a question of 'constitutional importance and real difficulty', that amendments to the immigration rules must be laid before parliament. In the second case, brought by language-centre association English UK, the Judge also ruled (following the precedent set in Pankina) that the language levels could not be increased to B1 without a negative resolution procedure (the forty-day period above) being implemented.
UKBA admits mistake
The Gazette has also obtained evidence (see p5 of our September issue) that the UK Border Agency has taken the decision to reintroduce the B1 level even after admitting that it had been wrong in claiming that B1 was 'just below a GCSE in a modern foreign language'. This would make it equivalent to the foreign language level of an English 16 year old. The comparison to GCSE was first made on 10 February and has been repeated by ministers in statements to the House and to the public. It was also used in court in the English UK case.
However, on 16 February Dr Brian North, who developed the CEFR levels, wrote a letter to the UKBA pointing out that a GCSE pass is a low A2, two school years below the B1 level, and that high-school students in most northern European countries require seven years of English at school to achieve that level - making it equivalent, in British terms, to at least an AS-level pass.
The UKBA did not reply to Dr North's letter, saying that when a copy was sent to them by the Gazette it had been 'overlooked'. The UKBA's Jeremy Oppenheim finally replied on 20 July, agreeing that the comparison to GCSE was 'simplistic', but argued that it was the correct level for language students. Two days after sending the letter, the government reintroduced the B1 requirement.
The EL Gazette digital team.(mailed out on Friday 23 July)