LONDON (Reuters/AFP) - Some migrants to Britain who cannot pass an English test within 21/2 years of arriving may not be allowed to stay, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday (Jan 18), in a move aimed at fostering greater integration by Muslim women.
Mr Cameron said there were 190,000 British Muslim women who spoke little or no English and Britain needed to take on the "backward attitudes" of some men whom he said exerted damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters.
"Someone can move to here with very basic English and there's no requirement to improve it over time. We will change that. We will now say: if you don't improve your fluency, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK," Mr Cameron wrote in an article for the Times newspaper. "This will help make it clear to those men who stop their partners from integrating that there are consequences."
Immigration rules already force spouses to speak English before they come to Britain to live with their partners. But Mr Cameron said they would also face further tests to make sure their language skills were improving.
"You can't guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language," he told BBC radio. "People coming to our country, they have responsibilities too."
Mr Cameron's government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women in England - about 22 per cent - speak little or no English.
There are estimated to be around 2.7 million Muslims in England out of a total population of some 53 million.
He also suggested that poor English skills can leave people "more susceptible" to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not," he told BBC radio.
"But if you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message."
The government will invest £20 million (S$41 million) in English classes for women in isolated communities, and from October this year will begin testing those who have come in to Britain on a spousal visa to check if their language skills have improved.
Mr Cameron said while there was no direct causal link between poor English language skills and extremism, those who were not able to integrate into British society were at risk of being more susceptible to extremist ideologies.
"Separate development and accepting practices that go against our values only emphasise differences and can help prompt the search of something to belong to," he wrote.
But his comments were criticised by Muslim groups, who said the British leader was "denigrating" Muslims rather than working with communities to help tackle extremism.
"The Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative government are once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough," said MR Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation.
"Rather than focusing on the positive contribution of our faith and community he focuses on the extreme minority of issues which clearly is not representative."