Research casts doubt on citizenship tests

Current tests are 'one-way integration', claims research. By James Perkins

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Tests for those seeking permanent residency or citizenship in the UK are creating a two-tier system of citizenship, Manchester University research claims.

Dr Bridget Byrne conducted research asking 30 individuals from 19 countries how they felt about the principle and content of the UK citizenship test.

The report, Testing Times, found respondents were confused about the purpose of the test and questioned whether it was relevant or merely a means of restricting the number of new citizens.

“Far from aiding integration, new citizens felt that, in sitting the tests, they had to prove their worth against citizens-by-birth, many of whom might be unlikely to pass the tests themselves,” Byrne said.

“The design of the test does not recognise how those who are required to take it already have a good understanding of British society and culture. As such, they were left feeling that they were facing barriers to their naturalisation.”

The report claims that the current format is an example of “one-way integration”, whereby all of the effort of adaptation comes from the newcomer.

Additionally, respondents felt that as prospective citizens must live in the UK for an extended period before sitting the test, the information is not necessary to function day to day in society.

At the time of the introduction of the latest test format, the minister for immigration Mark Harper suggested that the citizenship test was an important part of integration.

“Instead of telling people how to claim benefits, it encourages participation in British life,” he said.

Very few respondents in the study had a principled objection to taking a citizenship test. Most complaints or concerns centred on the content.

Major concerns included the usefulness of the information that candidates must learn and that more was expected of applicants than citizens born in the UK. Some suggested that the information was something required for the test but could then be discarded once an application was successful.

One respondent said that a pie chart breaking down the ethnic make-up of the UK did not do justice to the complexity of the subject and added some figures would be almost immediately out of date.

Byrne said the findings were of concern and questioned the practice and rationale of citizenship testing.

“This research concludes with real concerns about citizenship testing in the UK and a wider EU trend of raising the barriers to naturalisation,” she said

“New citizens had high levels of awareness of immigration debates in the UK and anti-immigration sentiment, and some found it particularly difficult to accept that even though they had passed their test they were still seen as a ‘dumb foreigner’”.

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