OCC: English test for immigrants fair

The Cayman Island’s Office of the Complaints Commissioner said last week that it’s pleased with improvements made to the Department of Immigration’s English-proficiency test, which is given to workers who come to the islands from non-English speaking countries.

Complaints Commissioner John Epp said an investigator from his office witnessed three separate English tests which were administered this month, and found they were more objective and consistent than the exam which was previously given.

The old test resulted in 17 people being denied entry into the country in one month, May 2005. An OCC review done in February found certain questions being asked of immigrant workers were unanswerable, not because of their lack of English communication skills, but rather because of a lack of knowledge about the Cayman Islands.

Also, the OCC review said the previous test left too much discretion in the hands of the processing officer, instead of having a set of objective questions for each migrant worker.

The new tests, which the Immigration Department started giving on 20 November, required permitted workers to answer some questions verbally and others in writing. The old test only required work permit holders to speak the language.

Mr. Epp characterized the written tests as ‘not difficult.’ However, he said it’s entirely possible someone could take and pass the oral portion of the exam, and still fail the written test, which would deny them entry to the islands.

‘As long as it’s done fairly and consistently…some people will pass and some people will fail,’ Mr. Epp said.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said only a handful of people have not passed the revised test since mid-November. Of the 39 tests administered in the first week, just two people failed.

Mr. Manderson said there had been one or two complaints from employers whose workers were sent back to their native countries after failing the test. ‘It hasn’t been many, but I would rather they not spend money to bring someone here to find out they can’t pass the test.’

It is possible for a job-seeker and their prospective employer to get a new work permit issued. That person could then re-take the test, but Mr. Manderson said the Work Permit Board may not grant another permit to someone who has already failed the exam.

The proficiency test is not given to workers who emigrate from countries where English is the primary language.

Mr. Manderson said giving the more detailed exam takes time. Each person gets 20 minutes to finish, and he said that can cause delays in processing. However, he said those struggling with the English language test are likely to have even more trouble if they were let into the islands.

‘It’s a tremendous disadvantage,’ said Mr. Manderson. ‘How will they (non-English speakers) make friends, or go shopping?’

Mr. Epp said it was not the complaints commissioner’s job to get involved in the debate over whether the Cayman Islands should have such a test for workers from non-English speaking countries.

‘That’s a political decision,’ said Mr. Epp. ‘Given that the decision was made, the test had to be designed and administered in a fair and objective manner. We’re satisfied that’s now being done.’

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