Wednesday, 15 February 2017 14:35

UK language industry – A united front on the future of foreign nationals

Ahead of the first House of Lords debate on the Brexit Bill (20 February), two of the UK’s leading professional language organisations are making a direct plea to Theresa May to put an immediate end to the uncertain status of 3.3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK. 

The UK’s language industry is heavily dependent on mother-tongue linguists, many of whom are EU nationals living and working in the UK.

The Association of Translation Companies (ATC) and the Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI) are concerned that the Prime Minister is simply paying lip service to the future of EU nationals who will continue to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations with European Union member states.

While comments made during a Commons debate on the Brexit Bill indicated Mrs May’s recognition for the valuable contribution EU citizens make to UK society and economy, her whips ensured that an amendment to the Bill, which would have safeguarded the position of EU citizens was defeated by 42 votes. That vote demonstrated her resolve not to take any unilateral action to guarantee EC citizens’ status, ahead of the Article 50 negotiations.

Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary for the ATC comments: “Ours is a sector heavily reliant on mother-tongue linguists for translation and interpreting. Many thousands of those EU professionals are resident in the UK and it is both immoral and destabilising for the industry to prolong the uncertainty about their status any further.”

Currently around one third of public service interpreters and 85% of modern foreign language assistants in UK schools are EU nationals, with many EU linguists also having established language service companies, which make a positive contribution to the UK’s £1 billion language industry.

Geoffrey continues: “We would urge the Prime Minister to take urgent action, in line with recommendations from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages, to guarantee the residency status for EU nationals already living in the UK and safeguard the future recruitment of EU citizens.

“The government talks about ensuring UK prosperity within a post-Brexit global economy and having access to a pool of professional linguists based in the UK, regardless of their nationality, is going to be key in realising that objective.”

Language services professionals, with their knowledge of languages and culture, are ideally placed to help the UK successfully overcome the challenges of Brexit and Sarah Griffin-Mason, Chair of the ITI, strongly believes the valuable role they have to play should be recognised at the highest level: “The expertise of UK-based, professional EU linguists will be essential when it comes to British companies negotiating trade deals and business agreements with Europe and the rest of the world post-Brexit.”

Geoffrey concludes: “Whilst Theresa May has insisted that she will be able to get an ‘early agreement’ on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, we worry that this was just an attempt to ease the concerns of rebel Tory MPs. What we really need from our Prime Minister is decisive action and we implore her not to continue using EU citizens as pawns in a clearly flawed and immoral Brexit strategy.” 

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