Rip Off Britain was a phrase that entered the vocabulary in the late 1990’s. I remember it quite well – I went to the car show the year they had the ‘protest’ stand set up, bemoaning the high price of new cars in the UK compared to the rest of Europe. And the phrase has continued in common usage to this day, with plenty of organisations ready to point out and publicise any large price differences for the same products that exist between the UK and Europe / the US.
You’d think that I’d have left the Rip Off behind me along with Britain when I left the country in 2005. Not a chance of it. The tentacles of bureaucracy reach far, and the Atlantic is no barrier at all. The rip off in question today being Paola’s immigration application. The cost is, in my opinion, extortionate and fails to reflect the actual cost of processing her application. It’s in dollars, naturally. One thousand two hundred of them. Or just shy of 15,000 pesos. Seven hundred and sixty three of her Majesty’s shiny pound coins.
But I’d accepted that. It’s a cost I’d known about for sometime. It turns out, however, that there is now an additional cost. From the end of November 2010, it was declared that applicants seeking settlement in the UK need to pass an English language test. A very basic IELTS test. At a cost of a further 2,000 pesos and plenty of trudging about to test centres. You might think that assessing an immigrants ability to speak English isn’t a bad idea, and you’d be right. Partly.
The thing is, this is a basic English test. Paola is a fluent English speaker. Hell, her spoken and written English is better than a good chunk of the UK’s native English speaking population! And what if we wanted to move to Glasgow? She could pass their test by filling her mouth with rocks and sand and saying three Hail Marys.
The point is, Paola will be interviewed at the British Embassy, where her English level will become immediately apparent. If an applicant is able to effectively and coherently complete an interview in English, how about the test requirement be waived? It would be, by that stage, clear that the test was just a waste of time and money and a completely unnecessary burden. Even if the interviewee struggled a bit but was capable of answering all the questions, then they’d pass the very basic IELTS test with flying colours.
If the applicant, on the other hand, is unable to complete the interview in English, then by all means send them along to take the test. It’ll be the first step of many in a process of fun and games where they will get to encounter many delightful characters. Although it should be noted than us Brits haven’t always had such a ‘hostile’ attitude to immigration. It all depends on direction.
I’m quite sure there’s more to the new English test requirement than fleecing applicants of a bit more cash though. There’s some twit sitting behind a desk in Whitehall with not enough work to justify his existence as an employee of the state, so he just made up some new work. And it appealed to his overlords in Westminster who want to be seen to be ‘doing something’, even if that something is a waste of time and money. It was probably the same team who dreamed up the British Citizenship test.
I’ve taken the test. A practise one, anyway, on the official website. I failed miserably, scoring 12 out of 24. And, if you’ll forgive the lack of modesty for a moment, I’m reasonably compos mentis, more so than mentalist compost anyway, and have a pretty decent knowledge of the UK, its history, law and culture. But I confess that I didn’t know that the UK received more immigrants in the 1980’s from the United States, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand that it did from the West Indies, Ireland, India and Pakistan. I was seven years old at the beginning of that decade and learning my multiplication tables, not counting immigrants off boats.
I also got stumped by the ‘which TWO of these are names for the Church of England?’ question. Where were the ‘homophobic dress wearing retards’ and ‘fairytale gang’ options? How many parliamentary constituencies are there? Too many, seemed the obvious answer, but no such option existed. In which year did married women get the right to divorce their husband? I’m outraged! Women can actually divorce their husbands?? Next you’ll be telling me we aren’t allowed to stone them for misbehaviour any more.
The percentage of people in the UK in 2001 who said they were Muslims was 2.7% apparently. Who gives a toss? I really wanted to know how many people claimed to be a Jedi. Nearly two per cent as it happens, and oh yes, I am one of those. It’s officially recorded so it must be true. The official report of the proceedings of Parliament is called Hansard. Not Complete Balderdash, as I would have guessed.
And the stupid questions go on. They could have come up with far more relevant and ‘British’ questions. Such as ‘who won the war anyway?‘ or ‘what is the correct procedure to restart a stalled car.’ Or just give them the full Racism Test. These clips could leave you with the impression that us Brits are a bunch of racist ole buggers still basking in an Empire. You’d be right. So I recommend dressing up as a furry cat. It’s great fun, and while it won’t entirely save you from abuse, the British public are far more likely to jump to defence of a helpless animal than a helpless <insert word of choice according to origin here>.