Walton Brown, Minister of Home Affairs

A Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson has confirmed that a draft policy is now under review that calls for an English test, to test the skills of foreign workers applying for work permits for employment in Bermuda.

The proposals were put out “in circulation for consultation”, and the Minister will discuss the move at a news conference later today.

The draft English Speaking Work Permit Policy was posted online by the Department of Immigration last month, with October 19 listed as the date the plan would go into effect.

The new policy document notes that some employers were “finding it more and more difficult to recruit from English-speaking countries”.

The policy also states that “It is unacceptable to have foreign nationals serving persons, whether it is in a restaurant, a hotel or a rest home, who cannot communicate effectively in English”.

“It is dangerous in a job where one has to also read prescriptions or the labels of dangerous chemicals.

“Consequently the following policy is being put into effect,” the policy statement added.

Job categories listed cover industries where the employee has contact with the public or where lives could be put at risk.

These include:

• Restaurants, food service and hotel workers

• Health professionals

• Caregivers in nursing jobs

Workers from countries where English is not the first language will be required to show evidence of a pass in an English as a second language course under the new policy.

But the department could not police proficiency in English, however, it said it would act on “complaints from members of the general public that work-permit holders cannot speak or understand English or if public officers witness this deficiency themselves”.

Workers already employed on the island will be given a language test at the Department of Immigration.

The statement said:”“If the language test results indicate that the person is deficient — they fail the test — in their understanding of and/or ability to speak English, the natural justice process will be administered and the employer and employee will be advised that the minister is considering revoking the work permit.

“Both parties will be given 14 days to provide a written response as to why the minister should not revoke the work permit.”

Bermuda’s immigration policy already has regulations on English proficiency, but they are restricted to nationals who fall under the Portuguese Accord and who work in the construction industry.

The restriction is a standard stipulation on Bermuda work permit applications and part of a 1982 agreement between the governments of Bermuda and Portugal, which covered terms for residence and employment for Portuguese contract workers.

The new policy proposes denying entry to Bermuda in cases where Customs or immigration staff observed first-time work permit holders who arrived and showed an inability to speak or understand English.

People deemed not be fluent enough in English would not be cleared through customs and would be sent home at their employer’s expense.