Ever ordered the soup and got the salad?

Next time it happens don't complain to the manager, complain to Immigration.

Foreign waiters who can't speak basic English face being sent home in the wake of tough new permit regulations.

Bosses will be required to ensure anyone they hire can speak the language of the land before they are allowed into the country.

And anyone caught stuttering over their stroganoff can be hauled before the Department of Immigration to face a language test. If they fail, they will be sent home at their employer's expense.

Businesses are being asked to police the policy themselves.

But any permit for restaurant workers, hotel staff, health professionals or caregivers will now carry the condition - "Approved subject to holder possessing a working knowledge of the English language".

Announcing the policy yesterday Immigration Minister David Burch said his department would respond to complaints from members of the public about permit holders who could not speak English.

Workers who are red-flagged to the department will be required to take a test and could ultimately have their permit rescinded.

"It is not our expectation that foreign workers be able to speak perfect, flawless English after passing the test however we do expect them to be able to understand and be understood by most residents who visit their establishment."

He said it was 'unacceptable' and sometimes 'dangerous' for workers in certain professions not to be able to communicate properly.

"If you want to work here you should have a level of competence in English."

He said the problem had vexed Bermudians and residents for years and was getting worse.

"I don't know if you've been to a restaurant lately. I have. Last time I got a waitress who didn't understand what I was saying, I didn't understand what she was saying and I didn't get what I asked for."

Colonel Burch said the policy, announced after a 12-month consultation period, was targeted specifically at service sector industries, but included all professions.

He said there was a 'built in incentive' for employers to comply because communication skills were essential in most professions.

"If I'm an electrician and I'm coming to your house and I can't speak English how can I understand what your problems is electrically?"

The problem is more pronounced in some professions, where lives could be threatened by lack of language skills.

"A lack of competence in English is dangerous in a job where one has to read prescriptions or the labels of dangerous chemicals."

Similar conditions are placed on work permits in other countries, said Colonel Burch.

He added: "If an English person went to France and just expected everyone to speak English they wouldn't have an easy time of it."

The Work Permit Holders Competency with English language policy is effective as of tomorrow.