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English skills needed to reap diversity benefits

17/05/2017 9:00:00 a.m.

A ‘paradox of diversity’ is raised in new research showing the potential benefits diversity brings to a society are only fully realised when foreign-born citizens speak the mainstream language.

It also highlights the gains from subsidised English-language education for migrants.
Lincoln University senior lecturer in economics, Dr Nazmun Ratna, co-authored a paper* which looks at the impact of diversity on American cities but has implications for other multicultural societies like Sydney, Toronto, London or Auckland.
The results show that diversity increases average income in cities but this effect is diminished the higher the proportion of people who lack English fluency.
 “There is an economic justification to subsidise English-language education for migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds as is performed in a number of countries,” Dr Ratna says.
An illustration of an approach to this issue is happening across the Tasman.
In late April the Australian government announced major changes in citizenship requirement. One was a ‘tightened English Language requirement’. A standalone English language test was introduced which incorporated three parts, reading, writing and speaking. The existing citizenship test will be revised to include more questions to test the understanding and commitment to Australian Values.
“Although it is possible to ‘screen’ migrants through the introduction of new laws/requirements, the government needs to support programs to improve language fluency of existing migrants not only for better social integration, but for positive economic returns,” Dr Ratna says.
* The ‘Paradox of Diversity’: Economic Evidence from US Cities 1980–2010.

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