Croeso from the UKBA

January 10, 2013

Patrick McGhee ("Predictive text", 3 January) begins his imaginative forecast for 2013 with news of a new requirement from the UK Border Agency for student entry into the UK: demonstrating fluency in Welsh.

Far from being a case of "pigs flying" (as your illustration shows), such tests have a real history in the British Empire. The dictation test for immigrants, pioneered in Natal and then several Australian colonies in the 1890s, gave immigration officials a mechanism for removing any "unwanted immigrants". The test became a cornerstone of the White Australia policy in 1901 and survived until 1958.

This test of at least 50 words could be given in any European language. Not surprisingly, of 805 tests administered in 1902-03, only 46 were passed.

The most famous case was that of Egon Erwin Kisch, a Czechoslovak Jew who had been expelled from Nazi Germany in 1933 and turned up in Australia the following year. Kisch was fluent in numerous European languages but eventually failed a test in "Scottish Gaelic". However, an appeal to the Australian High Court was sustained. Later in the 1930s, an Indian-born British woman was given the test in Italian, and also failed. After huge political pressure, however, she also was eventually admitted. And the minister in charge of immigration had to resign.

So why not bring on the Welsh tests - and Gaelic, too - if it really is a United Kingdom?

Malcolm Gillies, Vice-chancellor and chief executive, London Metropolitan University

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