English as a second language classes irk MLA Ezzard Miller

English as a second language classes being offered at a Cayman Islands business have fallen afoul of North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, who harangued the government last week about why people from other countries who are hired can’t speak English properly when they arrive.

“How is it possible for people to get work permits for people who can’t speak English good enough to do their job?” Mr. Miller asked during a meeting of Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee.

Mr. Miller was referring to an advertisement posted by a Grand Cayman resort that indicated it was hosting English classes for new hires who come from non-English speaking countries.

“The reality is that many people who work here do not speak fluent English,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said during the Finance Committee debate. “The question is… is the level of their English sufficient or adequate for them to do the particular job that they have?

“It depends on where you’re working. If you’re working on a construction site, the standard of English required would not be the same necessarily as it would be if you’re acting as a [restaurant] server.”

Mr. Miller asked the premier how anyone could be qualified for a job in Cayman if they didn’t speak English properly.

“[The business named in the advertisement] have got to provide training in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and accent-reduction,” Mr. Miller said. “That’s what the ad says. In the meantime, Caymanians are being deprived of opportunities to work. But the immigration board is giving people permits to work, but they’re not qualified according to the standards set by the institution that’s employing them.”

Mr. McLaughlin said the premier’s office would “make an enquiry” about the ESL class.

“I take the point entirely,” he said.

The English language test given by the Immigration Department to work permit applicants from countries where English is not the primary language is not difficult. Previous versions of the test obtained by the Cayman Compass listed 10 questions about rudimentary knowledge of the language.

Also, the individual work permit holder who arrives in Cayman for a job may have a dependent spouse or children who do not speak English fluently, even if the work permit holder does. Those individuals are not required to be tested for English proficiency if they’re not working.

Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith said last year that around 25 percent of migrants for whom English is not their first language currently fail immigration’s English proficiency test.

“You don’t need a degree in English to pass,” Mr. Smith said at the time.