Rabbis coming to the UK to preach may now need to demonstrate a “strong command of the English language” under new rules for visiting clergy.
The requirements for religious workers’ visas, effective from earlier this year, were discussed this week during a heated Westminster Hall debate.
MPs were angry that religious ministers can no longer apply for Tier 5 visas and must now apply for Tier 2 visas, for which an English language proficiency test can be included. The application costs have almost tripled to more than £600.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott described the change as “unwieldy, costly, bureaucratic and discriminatory,” adding that the new measures were “a blockage to faith communities, to the religious ministers they need to lead them, whether temporarily or for a little longer, and to good community relations”.
She described as “folly” the Tier 2 numerical cap, asking: “Do Ministers understand that priests, rabbis, imams and others need holidays and cannot be on-call 365 days a year, or that they visit loved ones or go abroad for further study?”
Home Office Minister Nick Hurd MP said: “Those tasked with leading roles within our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples must be able to demonstrate a strong command of the English language, which is fundamental to the change to Tier 2.”
He said it was to make sure visiting clergy “can explain their teachings in English to all in the community, not just to their congregation”.
However the Scottish National Party’s Stuart McDonald asked: “Are churches, mosques and synagogues not better placed to assess the level of English required for priests and other religious leaders to lead worship in their communities?”
Hurd said the changes were the result of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation on the ‘integrated communities strategy’ adding: “Ministers of religion play a visible role in our religious institutions and must therefore be able to integrate with the wider communities in which they live and serve.”
Labour’s Valerie Vaz MP said Hurd was “confusing social cohesion and religion”.
The most recent Census data, from 2011, showed more than 7,000 Yiddish speakers in Hackney, which represented 1.3 percent of the borough’s population at the time.