A fragmented approach to language breeds discrimination
English is our main language of communication in New Zealand.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) therefore requires an applicant for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category to have a certain level of proficiency in the language.
In the residence application stage, there are a number of ways you can prove you have met the English language requirement.
Over the years, INZ has taken different approaches in assessing this requirement.
A common sense approach is that if a person has been working in the country for many years, then it is safe to assume that his or her level of proficiency in English will meet the standard for settlement purposes.
However, in recent years, the Department has taken a more selective approach.
An unfair target
If you are from a particular industry, then INZ will require a score of 6.5 at the International English Language Test System (IELTS) across the four bands (reading, speaking, writing and listening) regardless of how long you have been in New Zealand.
In our experience, the Department is selectively targeting the hospitality industry, with a particularly harsh approach to cooks and chefs working in Chinese, Asian and Indian restaurants.
The way applications are assessed is dependent on where you work, as opposed to your ability and background. Those with certain circumstances are now routinely being asked to sit the IELTS merely because of their place of work.
This is discriminatory.
Despite the immigration instructions, which allow the application to show that their circumstances cumulatively meet the standard or provide an IELTS test, INZ considers the place of work to trump all other circumstances and insist on the test.
The work environment is of course important, but so is the life outside of work.
Day-to-day interaction outside of work where the medium of communication is English, and the background of the individual are factors that INZ is required to consider before requesting IELTS.
But the reality is otherwise, with applications declined outright.
IELTS is now unofficially the only way for a chef to prove that he or she is a competent user of English language.
An undesirable trend
The result is bad decision-making.
This is an undesirable trend.
It is a discriminatory approach.
The consequence is population control, which was not the intention of the people who put chefs on the list of skills we need. The approach is inconsistent, unfair, unreasonable and problematic. It is producing absurd results.
If we are really serious about wanting our residence applicants to achieve level 6.5 across the board in IELTS, then INZ should not be allowed to choose whom they require to appear for test. We need a fair approach.
The reality is that there will always be discrimination.
People from English-speaking countries and those who are used to the language in the workplace are the fortunate ones. Apart from working in an ideal position, they would also invariably be assessed by an understanding case officer at INZ.
An example of language discrimination
Take, for example, Sharma (not his real name). He has not been lucky. He has worked in New Zealand as a chef for 16 years, with his work visa renewed every year.
He has worked in many locations in New Zealand and some of these places were very isolated. He has travelled all over the country alone, has a New Zealand driving licence and cooking qualifications.
But to date, he has not been able to get New Zealand residence because he cannot meet the IELTS requirement. INZ insists that he must take this test.
He can speak clear and precise English, and communicates with various English speaking staff and suppliers. He has an attractive accent and a thoughtful way of expressing himself. But he will never be able to meet 6.5 on IELTS as he left school when he was 12 years old and can barely write in his own language.
He is now 48 years of age and has made incredible strides in learning to write in English.
Age slows people and it is hard to learn new skills.
But why should Mr Sharma be forced to write to an academic standard? This is not a key component to his successful integration into New Zealand. Neither his professional nor his personal life would entail such a standard.
He is bewildered by this approach towards his residence application, while many others known to him employed in simpler jobs, have got residence without IELTS.
Where is the justice for him? Why the disparate approach? He has a higher threshold than his fellow applicants. Despite the length of his stay and other factors that work in his favour, he has thus far been denied permanent resident status.
The reality is that the phobic approach has no place today.
The New Zealand that we have known looks and feels different, our demography is changing and hence the needs of the new New Zealanders will also be different.
We as a country need to respond to those needs. This may require reviewing our assumptions policy framework.
The ethnic voice is loud, clear and here to stay.