"A Jersey politician is calling for a cap on the number of Romanians living in the island. Constable Phil Rondel says Jersey should follow the UK and introduce a limit and they shouldn't be allowed to move to Jersey unless they can speak English. There are currently 807 Romanians registered in Jersey. The controversial proposal is already facing criticism and it was a key focus of today's States meeting. Constable Rondel said: "If you come over here on a work permit from within the Commonwealth you have to speak our language and understand our law to get your work permit. Yet people can walk in, who are not in the EU even, and get a job here without a permit or anything." Constable Rondel knows there's a danger his views could be seen as xenophobic, or even racist, but he says his motive is about the island's economic well being. (CTV 23/10/2013)
The UK has followed a number of countries including America and Canada (to name two) in having a Citizenship test - the Life in the UK Test is now required for settlement (indefinite leave to remain) in the UK or British citizenship. Part of the requirement of the course is to demonstrate sufficient competence in English. Legally, sufficient knowledge of Welsh or Scottish Gaelic can also be used to fulfil the language requirement.
There are also different rules for EU Citizens. As Wikipedia notes "Citizens of countries in the European Economic Area (other than British and Irish citizens) and Swiss citizens obtain permanent residence status automatically after five years' residence in the United Kingdom exercising Treaty rights." And Romania, of course, is set to join the EU in January 2014!
Whether Jersey should or could introduce a mandatory requirement for a test to demonstrate sufficient command of English (or perhaps Jerriais) is something which the UK has clearly taken a stand on. The need to understand statutory forms, and complete them is at the heart of our urban culture, and government needs some understanding of language simply to fill in those forms. Likewise, any use of the road system, requires a test to be taken, and some understanding of English.
But why single out Romania, when Romanians (as can be seen by comments on the CTV posting) can read and write very competent English?
Anna says: "I believe that we(Romanians) speak far better English than any other immigrant nation on this island!!!! We do not need any translators at hospitals or pharmacies and there just a few of us on social support."
Incidentally, at kindergarten in Romania, children receive initiation in foreign languages (typically English, French or German). In primary school, there are foreign languages learnt (usually French, English or German). The elementary schools have 6 years in the first foreign language (usually English but may also be French, or German) and 4 years in the second foreign language (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian or Portuguese). Many high schools provide classes with intensive study of a foreign language, such as English, French, German or Spanish; where a two-part examination (Grammar/Vocabulary and Speaking) is required for them.
It is very unlikely that their English will be poor!
And Andrea Ghisoi makes the point: "How about the Portuguese and Polish immigrants who have been living on the island for over 5 years and still don't manage to get by in English? Why aren't they mentioned in this discussion?"
Now I have had the odd Portuguese cleaner come to my home in the past, and they had very broken English - and sometimes even the needed to communicate via a third party on what tasks to do. And yet, of course, a number of Portuguese people speak English very well indeed. We can't make generalisations about people coming from other countries; we need hard statistics, and we lack those on English language competence.
So what prompted Constable Rondel to pick on the Romanians? The Daily Express earlier this month commented that: "Thousands of Romanian immigrants in Paris are planning to come to Britain because they have heard they "can get social benefits" here, it emerged yesterday."
The Telegraph of 23 October 2013 picks up on this theme and printed a letter. It is worth quoting in full, as it is by a lady who is a surgeon, a qualification received in Britain after tough exams. Her career is accomplished; she has a family and a house in London. She is a successful professional, with an upper social status, but she writes:
"It is increasingly more difficult to live as a Romanian citizen and Romanian professional in the UK. The UK is a country totally against racism and cultural blame. Unfortunately, this is what we are facing since January 2013 thanks to a part of the mass media and to some politicians. Romanians and Bulgarians are feeding mass media every day and this is not without consequences. I had never faced racism in this country until 2013. Now, almost on a daily basis I am asked where I am originally from, and I have to face a racist attitude following my answer. Some people do not say anything, the majority of them express a surprise only, some of them tell me that I do not look like a Romanian and some others start negative comments against us. I had to deal with this attitude from both patients and unfortunately senior colleagues at the work place. The blaming culture and racist attitude against us are damaging our lives and reputation. The vast majority of Romanians here are hard workers, honest, committed, paying taxes, contributing to the growth of this country, in the end of the day."
There is a lot of glib stereotyping of Romanians - for example "Romania and Bulgaria are two countries racked with corruption and organized crime" and Romanians have "a natural propensity towards crime". It seems to be very much in the news, fuelled by the tabloid newspapers. The Mail, weighs in with a typical headline "The budget flight crime wave: Romanian pick pocketing gangs use low-cost airlines to target cities and fly home in time for tea" as well as telling us that "About 100 Romanians and Bulgarians a day are getting jobs in Britain, according to official figures. The number of people from the two EU countries has soared by more than a third over the past year, even though they are not yet allowed to work freely in this country."
So why would they want to come to Jersey? Perhaps the St John Parish Magazine could furnish answer to their Constable? In August 2012, the "L'Étail du Nord" printed a report by Beaulieu students who had been in Oradea, Romania handing out Mustard Seed Jersey Christmas shoeboxes. Every year people in St John pack Christmas shoeboxes but "very few are privileged to see the end result and the gratitude of the recipients when they receive gifts from Jersey."
Here is a description of the conditions out in Romania:
"The team from Beaulieu was moved and stunned by some of what they saw. The girls saw families living in cramped living conditions without running water and where the only heating was a smokey wood-burning stove. They distributed bread and food parcels to families who could not afford to feed their children, and were amazed that they queued for two hours in the cold before the baker's van arrived. They saw the homeless living on the streets, sleeping near the central heating pipes for warmth as the temperatures plummeted a number of degrees below freezing. They handed out hot tea and sandwiches which would encourage the families and help them survive till morning."
If you lived in poverty in conditions like that, wouldn't you want to look for work elsewhere, and go somewhere better? I certainly would.
There's a passage in "Goodbye Mr Chips" which is also worth noting. Chip's wife Katherine suggests that they invite the children from the slum mission in London to Brookfield school. Previously, they had simply raised money and sent it off. But Katherine says "You can't satisfy your conscience by writing a check for a few guineas and keeping them at arm's length."
And there's a lesson to be learned there. Isn't it an irony that St John's is one of the Parishes at the heart of fund raising for Romania, and yet the Constable wants to keep the Romanians at arms length?
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