Overseas testing for non-English speakers

Workers from non-English speaking countries will be required to undergo formal language testing in their home country before being granted work permits under new immigration rules which come into effect in July.

The new requirement is designed to make the process more simple and cost-effective for people seeking work in the Cayman Islands, according to Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith.

He said around a quarter of migrants for whom English is not their mother tongue, currently fail the English proficiency test. That can mean that they incur the cost of flying thousands of miles to start a new life in Cayman only to be sent home at their own expense. The new regulations mean applicants will now sit the test before starting their journey.

“Prior to arrival in the islands, a prospective employee who has an English language testing requirement placed as a condition of their temporary or full work permit, should arrange to be tested by one of the two recognized overseas English Testing Centres,” the Immigration department said in a statement.

Mr. Smith said the two examining bodies – the International English Language Testing System and Test of English for International Communication – have test facilities operating in multiple countries.

He said the department had worked with the two centers to establish a pass mark that is roughly equivalent to the current test.

“This is not going to make the test any more difficult. You don’t need a degree in English to pass,” Mr. Smith said.

Anyone coming from a country where there is not a testing center will still be able to take the test in Cayman.

Arturo Ursua, the honorary consul for the Philippines, which has around 2,000 workers in the Cayman Islands, said most Filipinos speak good English. He said he was concerned that permit seekers may have to incur additional costs and delays during the application process, but suggested it would not be a big problem for most.

He said he hopes the test will be applied equally to all nationalities who do not have English as their first language and that the bar would not be set too high for workers in “back of house” jobs such as dishwashing.

“I can only recall a couple of cases in the past few years where Filipino nationals have failed the exam. My main concern is that this might be more costly for people,” Mr. Ursua said.

The Department of Immigration indicated that the prospective workers would incur some costs, as the fees for testing are set by each center and are the responsibility of the prospective employee prior to arrival in the islands.

Local immigration staff will serve as administrators and will have test score viewing capabilities for both centers.

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