English Tests Are Just an Excuse To Block Immigrants From Licensed Professions
Taiwanese student Ti “Joyce” Chun-Shan demonstrated English proficiency daily when she came to the United States at age 39. She took college classes in English, maintained good grades and earned a certification in ESL.
Chun-Shan, who finished a massage therapy program and earned an associate’s degree at Chandler Gilbert Community College in Arizona, also spoke English with clients as part of her training.
Nobody complained about a language barrier. Yet when Chun-Shan applied for an occupational license—a formality for most of her classmates—the Arizona Board of Massage Therapy singled her out for extra scrutiny.
State law requires massage therapists who are not native English speakers to demonstrate “communication proficiency.” So regulators told Chun-Shan, who grew up speaking Mandarin, that she would have to take an English test and exceed board-imposed standards in four sections: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
The board sets minimum standards outrageously high. Scores must exceed the median for all groups of test takers, including native English speakers and college graduates. Rather than waste her time and money—up to $325—Chun-Shan refused to take the test.
Other states lay similar traps, sometimes indirectly. Licensing programs and exams, for example, are often available only in English. Washington, D.C., added another barrier to those who don’t speak English fluently in 2016, when the district decided that daycare providers must have an associate’s degree in early childhood development or a closely related field.
The law says nothing about English proficiency, yet a 2018 analysis showed that all qualifying programs at nearby colleges were taught exclusively in English. As part of the coursework, aspiring daycare providers must earn credit in language-intensive subjects like public speaking and composition.
The prospect does not appeal to Ilumi Sanchez, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Dominican Republic. Sanchez, who held a law license in her native country, can communicate effectively with English-speaking parents and children at her home-based daycare business. But attending college in any language other than Spanish w
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