Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess | Thom Brooks | The Guardian

Good pointed commentary – better to have tests that are more general civic knowledge-based, as in Canada, than ones that try to capture obscure facts. A written test, of course, is more administratively efficient and consistent than individual interviews, the main reason it was introduced in Canada in the early 90s:

Meghan Markle is on a fast track from Hollywood to British royalty. She’ll certainly be joining the royal family from the moment of her marriage to Harry in May. And yet, if she wants to remain permanently in the UK, even the wife of the Queen’s grandson must pass a citizenship test.

The test has been sat more than 2m times since its launch in 2005. Anyone applying must correctly answer 18 or more of 24 multiple choice questions to pass – and the test costs £50 for every attempt.

It’s like a bad pub quiz: the test for British citizenship that few Brits could pass. One candidate failed 64 times before finally passing the test, and if you look at what the government’s quiz asks, it’s easy to see why. How many of us know the height of the London Eye, the age of Big Ben’s clock tower, or that Sake Dean Mahomed introduced curry to the UK in opening the Hindoostane Coffee House on George Street, London? These are some of the nearly 3,000 facts in the 180-page test handbook anyone wanting to stay in Britain is expected to know.

The absurdity doesn’t stop there. The test requires knowledge of the numbers of elected representatives in each regional assembly, but not in the House of Commons. Candidates need not know how to report a crime or register with a GP, but must know the approximate size of the Lake District and about 278 historical dates including when the Roman emperor Claudius invaded Britain.

If the citizenship test is meant to help migrants “integrate into society and play a full role in your local community”, there is little evidence to show it succeeds. The test has appeared in three editions and been used for more than a decade, but there has never been a formal consultation on whether its aims are being achieved. So I did it for them.

My 2013 report exposed serious failings, including the test’s impracticality and the many mistakes and omissions. My report made a dozen recommendations for how these problems might be fixed. Despite being raised in parliament, the test remains unchanged.

If left unreformed the test is damaging integration more than it’s enabling it
For my book Becoming British, I interviewed citizens across the UK about the citizenship test. Almost no one believed it helped their integration into a British society where few had even heard of the test. Instead of building bridges, most saw the test as another barrier whose main purpose was to extract additional fees. The lesson to learn here is that the test is currently damaging integration more than it’s enabling it.

There is an opportunity now to get this right as Britain changes its immigration policies after Brexit. Either the test is substantially modified to become a less trivial and fairer test of knowledge required for citizenship, or it should be thrown on the scrap heap.

A citizenship test is not obviously necessary to demonstrate a knowledge of life in the UK or British values. People could instead be tested informally without an exam, for instance by satisfying existing requirements for lawful residency, avoiding a criminal record, paying taxes owed and the like. These are ways in which people do show an understanding of living in this country in harmony with others.

But if the test is kept, change is needed – and a first step would be to make the answers freely available. Displaying knowledge about living in Britain shouldn’t require buying a book with the information in. And rather than the test remaining a block, it should be relaunched as something that is primarily of symbolic importance. In the US, the test is the last step to citizenship with zealously non-partisan questions about who was the first president or which side won the American civil war.

By contrast, half the UK’s test information on education is about setting up the government’s then flagship programme of free schools, but without any mention of a national curriculum, A-levels and more. Such partisanship needs to go. A test aimed at formally recognising the belonging someone has already earned is clearly preferable to what we have.

And if it is revised, it’s critical that there is a public dialogue about what is included. The government imposes this test of Britishness in the public’s name, but it is so alien as to render it absurd. People need to have confidence in our immigration system again, and imposing arbitrary knowledge tests won’t solve it.

Finally, migrants shouldn’t have a veto, but they deserve to have a voice. If the test doesn’t support integration, this needs to be fixed. Second-guessing the experience of migrants like me – who have passed the test and become British citizens – only continues the problem.

via Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess | Thom Brooks | Opinion | The Guardian

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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