Senator Burch, in his capacity as the Minister responsible for immigration, has recently made a few announcements relating to ex-pat workers. These include changing the term limits to ten years and stressing that all ex-pats must be able to speak English properly.
I am in support of changing the term limits to ten years. I am generally in support of the idea behind term limits, although I recognise there were some bugs in the system as it was originally instituted. To me the extending of the term limits from six to ten years is an adequate compromise and should alleviate some of the concerns IB had towards the policy. I am however slightly confused whether this new policy is just for ex-pats in IB or if its an across the board policy. And Senator Burch’s statement about it being policy, but one that he will not actually issue any ten year term limits just seems to really muddy the waters.
Nor do I fully understand his rationale for not issuing such ten year term limits, despite it now being policy. As far as I can tell from his statements (in the breaking news RG) is that he is having a fit of pique because he views some people in IB as being two-faced with him. Maybe it’s just me, but governing on the basis of personal pique doesn’t seem the ideal form of governance, let alone instilling any confidence for IB. I can understand if the reasoning was just that the Minister wants to have some time to review the policy before implementing it, but as the Ministry in question formulated the policy in the first place I find that a bit strange.
Now, as to the requirement for ex-pats to speak English, I do not have a problem with that idea in and of itself. To me it is just logical that someone wanting to come and work in an English speaking country should be able to communicate in English. The only exceptions there would be refugees, but in that case I would expect them to be provided with English as a Second Language courses. However, with the exception of our Uighur friends, Bermuda generally doesn’t have any issues in terms of refugees, so that is a moot point.
I am however quite concerned about how the policy appears to being implemented, in that it is opening up any number of ex-pats to harrassment, and risks wasting alot of Ministry time dealing with bogus reports. It would make much more sense to institute a policy so that all people applying for the right to work in Bermuda, or to extend their term limit, from X day forward will be required to prove their proficiency in English should English not be their mother-tongue. This would prevent harrassment on ex-pats, as well as, in the long-term, save the Ministry a good deal of paperwork.
From my personal experiences with this issue though, I really haven’t encountered any guest workers who have trouble speaking English, or understanding my English. I have encountered guest workers who have an accent which, while I can understand them fine, I have observed some of my fellow Bermudians having difficulty with. More often though I find that guest workers have some difficulty with broad Bermudian accents and the idiosyncratic manner of speaking of many Bermudians. Our dialect, while English, is not Standard English by far, and that in my opinion is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between guest worker-Bermudian communication.
I am not saying we should kill of the Bermudian dialect. Even if we could do such a thing it would be tantamount to actively killing of some our heritage and culture. All the same we DO need to ensure that all Bermudians are able to switch effortlessly between dialect and Standard English, and that skill, along with more than basic literacy, is one which is embarassingly lacking in many of our people. Indeed, many of our politicians themselves seem to have difficulty speaking Standard English – even Senator Burch, who can articulate his words fine, employs these words in dialect syntax and mannerisms that can be confusing to non-dialect speakers. This doesn’t reflect in any way on their ability, but it does pose problems for mutual understanding.
Ironically I, who only speak English (although I have some basic knowledge of a few other languages), have often found myself being lectured in proper English grammar by non-native speakers. These speakers, having learned English as a second language (or they are Indians who are native speakers, but very particular on Standard English I’ve found), precisely becuase they have learned English as they have, have a better grasp of Standard English than myself.
Afterall Standard English is only the native dialect of a handful of English speakers from around London, everyone else speaks various dialects which are mutually intelligble only up to a point. For example, despite being ethinically Scottish, I have great difficulties with the Glaswegian and Aberdonian accents, but am fine with Fife or Dundonian (in general). Similarly I am mostly okay with Singlish (Singaporean English dialect) and various Creoles, but have great difficulty with some North American accents such as those from New Jersey, Boston and Pennsylvania.